Five Fascinating Poinsettia Facts

Impress the folks around your Christmas dinner table this year when you share these poinsettia facts.

Everyone’s favorite Christmas flower has an interesting history and some unusual growth habits. Here are five fascinating poinsettia facts to share with friends and family this year.

Poinsettia Facts

Mexico First. Those who know even basic poinsettia facts can tell you these plants come from Mexico. They have a long history there – Aztecs made red dye from them and used the milky sap medicinally. When Christianity and Christmas were introduced by Europeans, poinsettias came to be associated Christmas almost immediately. Legend tells of a poor young Mexican girl named Pepita who wished to give a present to baby Jesus at her Christmas service. Her cousin Pedro encouraged her, saying, “Even small gifts given with love make Jesus happy.” With nothing else to give, she pulled a handful of flowering weeds from the side of the road and laid them at the altar. Moments later, they transformed into brilliant red blooms – surely a miracle.

From Mexico to the World. In 1825, the first Mexican Ambassador was appointed, Joel Roberts Poinsett. He was so taken with poinsettias that he sent cuttings home to South Carolina. From there, he sent them to friends and family each year. One of these friends was famous botanist John Bartram, who sold them at the Philadelphia flower show and introduced them to the wider world. Over time, they became synonymous with Christmas everywhere.

Tiny Flowers and Colored Leaves. The red “flowers” of poinsettias aren’t flowers at all. The flowers of the plant are tiny and yellow, tucked in the center of each collection of leaves. The colored leaves are known as bracts. The leaves start out green, spending most of the year growing large. They begin to turn red when the plant starts to receive at least 12 hours of complete darkness each day. Colored bracts help draw pollinators to the diminutive flowers, which might otherwise go unnoticed.

Butterflies Love Them. Speaking of pollinators, butterflies love the flowers of poinsettia. If you live in a warmer climate (no frosts or freezes at all), plant your poinsettias outside to draw butterflies to your garden. Learn more here.

Not So Toxic. Despite the very common myth, poinsettias are not extremely poisonous. Though the sap is mildy toxic and causes stomach distress, no deaths of people or animals have been reported from eating poinsettia. In fact, studies say that a 50 lb child would need to eat 500 leaves before being in serious danger. Given that poinsettia is very bitter, it’s unlikely a child or pet would take more than one bite.

Now that you know some poinsettia facts, learn how to care for them properly by clicking here.

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Jill Staake
Jill lives in Tampa, Florida, and writes about gardening, butterflies, outdoor projects and birding. When she's not gardening, you'll find her reading, traveling and happily digging her toes into the sand on the beach.