Because of their popularity as holiday decorations, poinsettias are the best-selling potted plants in the United States. Here are some facts and history about America’s favorite houseplant:
- Poinsettias come in many colors, including scarlet, ivory, pink and mauve. The colorful part that we might consider the poinsettia flower is actually a collection of colored leaves called “bracts.” The plant’s true flower is the tiny, yellow bloom in the middle of the bract, called a “cyathium.”
- Poinsettias are not poisonous. Numerous studies have been conducted on poinsettia toxicity, and according to the “American Medical Association Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants,” other than occasional cases of vomiting, ingestion of the poinsettia plant has been found to produce no harmful effects.
- Poinsettias were initially propagated from wild plants in central Mexico. The Aztecs used the ancestral version of today’s poinsettias to dye fabric and used the plant’s sap as a remedy for fevers.
- The poinsettia is named for Joel Roberts Poinsett, a native of Charleston, South Carolina. A doctor, soldier and amateur botanist, he was serving as the U.S. ambassador to Mexico in 1828 when he sent the first poinsettia clippings back to gardener friends in the U.S. He went on to help found what would become the Smithsonian Institution before his death in 1851.
- Pennsylvania nurseryman John Bartram is credited as being the first person to sell poinsettias under their botanical name, Euphorbia pulcherrima. The plants were renamed in the mid-19th century to honor Poinsett.
- Greenhouse producers grew about 33.2 million poinsettias, worth about $141 million, in 2014, according the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service.
- California and North Carolina top the nation in poinsettia production, growing 6.7 million and 4.6 million plants per year, respectively, but Georgia growers also turn out hundreds of thousands of poinsettias each year.
(Information for this list came from University of Illinois Cooperative Extension’s "Poinsettia Pages" at extension.illinois.edu/poinsettia and from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.)
(Merritt Melancon is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)