It’s Poinsettia season! Who was Joel Robert Poinsett? Do Poinsettias grow in the wild? Learn this and more to tell your clients about the showy holiday plant in these 10 facts from the University of Illinois Extension:
- The showy colored parts of Poinsettias that people think of as the flowers, are actually colored bracts, or modified leaves.
- The bracts’ colors are created through “photoperiodism,” meaning they require darkness (12 hours at a time for at least five days in a row) to change color. Once Poinsettias finish that process, they require abundant daylight for the brightest color. (One reason why it’s hard to get them to rebloom.)
- During the 14th – 16th century, the Aztecs used Poinsettia sap to control fevers and the bracts were used to make a reddish dye. Montezuma, the last of the Aztec kings, had Poinsettias brought in by caravans.
- The German botanist, Wilenow, saw the plant growing through a crack in his greenhouse. Dazzled by its color, he gave it the botanical name, Euphorbia pulcherrima meaning “very beautiful.”
- In Mexico, the Poinsettia is a perennial shrub that will grow 10 to 15 feet tall and can be found in the wild.
- In the 1820’s Joel Roberts Poinsett was the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. With an interest in botany, he wandered the Mexican countryside looking for new plant species. In 1828 he found a beautiful shrub with large red flowers growing next to a road. He took cuttings and brought them back to his greenhouse in South Carolina.
- William Prescott, a historian and horticulturist, was asked to give Euphorbia pulcherrima a new name as it became more popular. At that time Prescott had just published a book, Conquest of Mexico, in which he detailed Poinsett’s introduction of the plant to the U.S. Thus, Prescott named the plant the Poinsettia.
- Today the plant is known in Mexico and Guatemala as “”La Flor de la Nochebuena,” or Flower of the Holy Night, or Christmas Eve. In Chile and Peru, the Poinsettia is called the “Crown of the Andes.” In Spain the Poinsettia has a different holiday attribution and is known as “Flor de Pascua,” meaning “Easter flower.”
- Though John Bartram, a Pennsylvania nurseryman, is credited as being the first person to sell Poinsettias, it was the Ecke family of California who gained the market. In the early 1900’s, the Eckes grew Poinsettias outdoors as landscape plants and cut flowers until Paul Ecke Jr. discovered a technique which caused every seedling to branch and the family industry to flourish. Then in 1991, a university graduate student published an article describing a method for causing Poinsettias to branch. With the secret out and available, competition gained ground, resulting in a decrease of Ecke’s share of the market. Today, however, the Paul Ecke Ranch in California still grows over 70% of all Poinsettias purchased in the U.S. and accounts for about 50% of Poinsettia world-wide sales. As of August 2012, the Ecke Ranch, which was family-owned and operated for nearly 100 years, announced it had been acquired by the Dutch-based Agribio Group.
- There are more than 100 varieties of Poinsettias available today. Colors include the traditional red (Prestige Red is a best seller), as well as white, pink, burgundy, marbled and speckled.
For more Poinsettia facts, growing tips, helpful links, and a list of references for the above facts, visit The Poinsettia Pages of the University of Illinois Extension here.