Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Lore--Day 17


Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are originally from Mexico.  The Aztecs named them "Cuetlaxochitl" and they used the bracts as a dye and the sap as a medicine for fevers. Joel Roberts Poinsett was the first United States minister to Mexico, appointed by President John Quincy Adams in the 1820s.  He was interested in botany and he was always looking for new species. During his stay in Mexico, he introduced the American elm into Mexico. In 1828, he discovered a beautiful shrub with large red flowers.  He took some cuttings and brought them back to his greenhouse in South Carolina. While he was a very successful minister to Mexico, he will always be remembered for his discovery of the poinsettia, which was named after him. In the early 1900s, the Ecke family in California began growing poinsettias for use as landscape plants and as cut flowers.  Today, they produce approximately 80% of the poinsettias in the US for the wholesale market.  90% of all of the flowering poinsettias in the world got their start at the Ecke family farm. (The Ecke family developed a grafting technique that produced a superior plant that gave them an edge in the marketplace.  They also had a successful marketing campaign that associated poinsettias with Christmas.)  In the 1990s, their secret was discovered which opened the door for competitors, especially in Latin America.

Facts about poinsettias

--They are NOT poisonous.  However, the milky sap is mildly toxic and can cause skin reaction in some individuals.  Even when ingested, it just causes a minor stomach upset with some diarrhea and vomiting.  Getting the sap in the eyes can cause temporary blindness. A study at Ohio State University showed that a 50 pound child who ate 500 bracts might have a slight tummy ache. Click here for more information.
--In their native country of Mexico, they are a perennial and can grow to ten feet tall.
--The red "flowers" are not flowers but colored bracts (modified leaves.)
--The actual flower of the poinsettia is at the center of the colored bracts.
--AKA:  Flame Leaf Flower, Crown of the Andes, Ataturk, Lobster Flower,
--National Poinsettia Day is on December 12
--There are over 100 different varieties of poinsettias.

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