Poinsettia Trivia and Information
Martha Maletta, Home Horticultural Consultant
Dated -  December 03, 2004

It’s poinsettia time again. I’ll review basic care but first, just for a change or pace, here are some poinsettia trivia and miscellany.

In recent years poinsettia sales topped 60 million plants of which about three-quarters were – you can probably guess – red. A 2003 poinsettia survey done at Texas A & M University found that for color, 43.5 % of respondents preferred true red, 27 % preferred pinkish red and the least popular at 3.7% was white. When they asked about bract pattern – shape and color - the most popular at 45% was the standard shape, solid red, In second place at 17.5% was standard shape red and white spotted and least popular was standard shape pink and white marbled. A red Christmas rose type with incurved bracts received 9% of the votes.

It’s coming up very soon and I must admit I have not been not aware of it, much less celebrated it: National Poinsettia Day, Dec 12. It was designated by Act of Congress to honor the contribution of Joel Poinsett, first US ambassador to Mexico, in bringing this plant to the US. Euphorbia pulcherrima has changed a lot, through decades of breeding, from the tropical shrub capable of growing to 10 feet or more in its native habitat to the ubiquitous holiday plant we know.

The genus Euphorbia, to which poinsettia belongs along with 1600 other species, contains a number of common plants, native and not, some used as ornamentals, some considered weeds and some as both. Flower gardeners may know E. lathyris (gopher spurge, a biennial purported to repel moles and other critters), E. marginata (snow-on-the-mountain, an annual grown for decorative foliage), and E. griffithii (a perennial with orange-red tinted bracts). E. Milii (crown-of-thorns) is a popular houseplant.

Most gardeners and homeowners have probably encountered spotted and prostrate spurges (E. maculata and E. humistrata) at some point. These small-leafed, wiry, low growing, spreading weeds are common in gardens, lawns, patios and brick walks and survive very well in difficult sites…like my gravel driveway. They can be identified by the milky sap exuded from cut stems and leaves.

There are two native Euphorbia (E. cyathophora and E. heterophylla) whose distinction seems to be confused in the general literature. They go by names such as wild poinsettia, painted poinsettia, Mexican fire-plant, fire-on-the-mountain. Some consider them wildflowers and ornamentals but others deem them weeds. E. heterophylla is a noxious pest for peanut growers in Georgia.

The holiday poinsettia was, at one time believed to be poisonous if ingested, but that idea has been disproved. However, those sensitive to rubber plant latex should probably take care in contacting poinsettia. Research at the Medical College of Georgia found that 40% of those allergic to latex were also allergic to poinsettias.
Finally, some tips on choosing and caring for poinsettias. Choose a healthy plant by looking for good foliage and bract color- no yellowing, discoloration or spots - and full foliage cover – little or no stem visible. Look at the true flowers in the center of the poinsettia “bloom”. If many true flowers bearing yellow pollen are prominently visible, the “bloom” may be passing or past peak

Poinsettias do not like cold (below 50 F), not even a short exposure going from shop to home. The seller should provide some protection – a sleeve- for the plant, and it should not be transported or left in a cold automobile trunk. Cold can cause leaf and bract drop and bract discoloration so avoid cold temperatures, even drafts, once the plant is at home.

Poinsettias need regular watering (drying out will cause premature leaf loss) but the planting mix should dry to the touch before re-watering. Give them a bright location but no direct sun while they are in bloom. Ideal temperatures are70-75 F during the day and 60-65 F at night. The plants might benefit from fertilizer after a month or so, especially if the plan is to keep them beyond the holidays as houseplants.

For lots more information on poinsettias, visit the Poinsettia Pages of the University of Illinois Extension website at