We are all familiar with the seasonal magnificence of the Poinsettia plant. Here at Heyden’s we grow over 3,500 Poinsettias each year. We supply not only our two retail garden centers (Heyden’s Gardens in Cedarburg & Nehm’s Greenhouses in Slinger) but also provide plants for several non-profit fund-raising events. We start our crop in June in order to have the plants ready to beautify your home for Thanksgiving and the Christmas season.
History & Folklore
There are several legends about how the Poinsettia came to be associated with Christmas. Mexican folklore tells the story of a young girl who wanted to bring a gift to the baby Jesus in the nativity on Christmas Eve. Having no other gift to bring, she picked a bouquet of weeds along the side of the road. When she laid the weeds at the foot of the altar they were transformed into brilliant red flowers. This tale led to the Spanish name “Flores de Noche Buena”/ “Flowers of the Holy Night”. Other stories tell of the shape of the leaves echoing the shape of the Star of Bethlehem and the red flowers symbolizing the blood of Christ. How ever it all started, the Poinsettia has come to be beloved by many as an important part of the Christmas season.
While grown here in Wisconsin primarily as a potted holiday plant, Poinsettias can actually grow to tree-like proportions in their native Central American range. The showy colored tops, which most people refer to as flowers, are actually bracts or modified leaves. These colorful bracts help attract pollinators to the inconspicuous yellow flowers found at their center. The color of the bracts includes the traditional red as well as white, pink, and variegated. The bract color develops in response to light conditions and requires a specific combination of darkness and light to initiate color change. These precise light demands make achieving rebloom in a potted Poinsettia a bit challenging, so most people simply enjoy them as seasonal plants and dispose of them after the holidays.
Caring for your Poinsettia
To keep your Poinsettia looking its best for the longest time place it in a location where it will receive bright, indirect light. Monitor the watering so that it never becomes entirely dry but also is not kept soppy wet. If the pot is surrounded with decorative foil, punch holes in the bottom of the foil to provide drainage and avoid standing water that can cause root rot.
The Toxicity Myth
Being a member of the Euphorbia family, Poinsettias produce a sticky white sap that can cause skin irritation. However, the idea that Poinsettias are highly toxic has been disproved. An extensive study of Poinsettia toxicity was conducted by Ohio State University that found that, even when given “extraordinarily high doses”, lab animals showed no symptoms of toxicity and no mortality. Several other studies have re-confirmed this finding. The medical consensus is that Poinsettias pose a risk of skin and eye irritation primarily to people with latex allergy who come in contact with the milky sap. Consuming the leaves of the plant has been found to produce, at worst, slight nausea.