The poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is a sub-tropical plant native to Mexico and Central America where it is called “Cuettaxochill.” They were introduced to our country in 1825 by our first ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts. In their native habitat they are considered shrubs and reach heights of 8-10 feet.
Most people believe their colorful red, white and pink bracts are flowers. However, they are not; instead their tiny greenish/yellow, berry-like centers are its flowers.
The myth regarding poinsettia being poisonous arose from an unsubstantiated report in 1918 of a 2 year child in Hawaii dying as a result of eating poinsettia leaves. Although, many still consider the leaves poisonous, a 1971 study at Ohio State University found that a 50 pound child would have to consume more than 500 leaves to have a harmful reaction. POISENDEX, a resource used by many poison centers, says that one would have to consumer one and a half pounds of poinsettia leaves to become ill. One’s skin might become irritated by the touch of either the plant’s leaves or milky sap.
The Paul Ecke Ranch greenhouses in California and Guatemalan have bred more than one-half of all poinsettia varieties sold worldwide. Their sales of rooted, un-rooted and callused 4 to 5 inch cuttings to wholesale growers produce 70 percent of all poinsettia plants purchased in this country and 50 percent of world-wide sales.
The poinsettia is a short day plants and therefore begin to set bloom when the hours of darkness increase. Depending upon how long they require to bloom (8 to 10 weeks) specimens can be classified as very early, early, midseason or late.
A beloved holiday plant, they should not be placed in drafts and only moderately watered.
They can be brought into bloom after their first year — however the process is long, requires one to shut them into darkness, and so on, thus I personally consider them disposable and grow them outdoors their second year until they die upon the arrival of frost.
Ed Myers is an Advanced Master Gardener, immediate past president of the Garfield Park Master Gardener Association, a past president of the Irvington Garden Club, and the Steward of both the Kile Oak Habitat and Benton House Historic Gardens.