It is a plant native to Mexico, where it is known as Flor de Nochebuena - the Christmas Flower. The Aztecs called it Cuetlaxochitl, which meant "star flower." Today it has become a symbol of Christmas and is commonly found in our homes, accompanying colorful Christmas trees.
The poinsettia was first described as a new species in 1834 by German scientist Johann Friedrich Klotzsch.
It is native to Mexico and Guatemala.
The species is found along the Pacific coast of Mexico and southern Guatemala. It grows in humid areas in forested ravines and valleys. In the 16th century, the Aztecs planted those flowers in the area of Mexico City, where the plants are found wild. Prevalence of poinsettias near population centers indicates that they are remnants of a past civilization horticulture centuries ago.
In the intertropical area, this species is commonly grown in the ground as an ornamental plant.
In Africa, the Canary Islands, India, it is considered an invasive species in some areas.
Why is it called Poinsettia?
It is named after the first United States ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett. He was the first to bring this species to the U.S.
Joel Poinsett was not only a diplomat, but also a doctor, botanist and plant lover. He sent several plants to the botanical garden in Philadelphia. To commemorate his person, the plants were given the name poinsettia.
Joel Roberts Poinsett died on December 12, 1851 - in his honor, Congress established December 12 as Poinsettia Day.
On this day, people around the world buy poinsettias and give them to loved ones. Every year, more than 100 million poinsettias are sold throughout Europe, and every second one is bought as a gift. In Mexico, also on December 12, poinsettias are customarily used as decorations during the Diade la Virgen de Guadalupe, a festival celebrating the liturgical memory of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe.
Are poinsettia poisonous to humans? Not much, it may cause nausea, diarrhea, or vomiting if consumed.
External exposure to the plant may result in a skin rash. It may also cause itchiness, redness, or swelling. It's not severely harmful to animals too. Dog or cat's exposure to poinsettias rarely requires medical treatment. After ingestion it may cause vommitting, drooling and sometimes a diarrhea.
The Latin generic name "Euphorbia" commemorates the Greek physician Euphorbus, who in the 1st century AD treated the ruler of Mauritania, Juba II, with the milky sap of plants from the genus Euphorbia.
The species name "pulcherrima" was given to the plant by the German botanist Carl Ludwig Willdenow.
The poinsettia is a perennial plant that needs a dormant period to grow and flower annually.
It is a short-day plant and needs to be in the dark for 8-16 hours a day for about two months to bloom. The recommended length of day and night depends on the variety, stage of development and temperature.
Flowering of poinsettias takes place from November to January.
During one season the plant can reach 2-3 m ( 6.5 - 10 ft. ) in height.
Keeping Poinsettia alive is a daunting task. It is very sensitive to low temperatures.
It grows best in a bright spot, but not in direct sunlight. Too much direct light may cause its colorful bracts to start lose their color. It likes warm places around 21°C (70 °F) and doesn't tolerate draughts so needs watering when the substrate in the pot gets slightly dry.
The distinctive feature of this flower is the colorful bracts (red, pink, yellow, cream, etc.).
The bracts are arranged in a characteristic star shape. The actual flowers are small and inconspicuous, hidden among the bracts.
More than a hundred varieties of poinsettias are known.
The newest ones have spotted or crimson leaves.
Poinsettias, like other plants in the spurge family, contain significant amounts of latex.
People with allergies must beware of it, because 40% of contacts with the plant, develop an allergic reaction (cutaneous or asthmatic). Two allergenic proteins have also been found in the plant. There is also a widespread legend about the plant toxicity which is not true. Consumption of the plant is not associated with poisoning, only gastrointestinal upset, nausea and vomiting may occur, but this is not toxic.
The poinsettia, outside its natural habitat, is grown as a potted flower and various chemicals are used to limit its growth.
In the tropical and subtropical regions this species is cultivated as an ornamental garden plant. In natural habitat it is a woody plant (shrub or low tree) 1-3 m (3,3 - 10 ft.) tall, with shoots at the base up to 8 cm (3.14 inch) in diameter.
Poinsettia, in addition to its decorative value, serves as a medicinal, cosmetic and dye plant.
In Mexico and Guatemala, the milky sap from poinsettias was used as shaving cream. In Guatemala, the sap was also used as a remedy for toothaches and as a vomiting remedy. To relieve pain, poultices were made from the leaves, and between the 13th and 16th centuries red dye was obtained from the pods. A decoction of the pods and flowers is used by breastfeeding women as a substance to increase lactation. Poinsettia leaves are also believed to have abortifacient properties. Alcoholic extracts of the plant have a proven antibacterial effect.
The Legend of the Poinsettia.
A poor girl on her way to church picked a plant that grew by the roadside to decorate the altar on the day Jesus was born. She could not afford decorations, so she thought that Jesus, for whom sincere intentions not material values are important, would be pleased by what nature gave. One day, the green, inconspicuous leaves of the plant turned a beautiful red and since that day, the plant has been called Flor de Nochebuena - the Christmas flower.