Eggnog. Carols. Snowmen. Holiday cheer. This time of year is overflowing with traditions that span generations and booming with anticipation of a new year. But when it comes to staples of the season one colorful plant comes to mind: poinsettias.
Brightly colored and known for its star-shaped silhouette, poinsettias have a rich history and unique tie to the holiday season. As National Poinsettia Day approaches us this Friday, December 12th, we thought it perfectly appropriate to share some lesser known details about one of our favorite holiday plants.
1. Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first ambassador to the new Republic of Mexico, was historically responsible for the popularity of the ruby plant throughout North America. While visiting the Taxco region of Mexico in 1828, Poinsett became so captivated with the plant that he decided to send clippings of it back to his home in Charleston, South Carolina. Upon return, he forwarded the clippings to his friends, thus introducing and spreading the beauty of poinsettias throughout the region.
2. In 1833 the poinsettia had been originally assigned the botanical name of Euphorbia pulcherrima. By 1837 the plant had been renamed Poinsettia pucherrima by William Hickling Prescot. Prescot had been asked to rename the plant and chose to honor Joel Poinsett for his many achievements in government and horticulture.
3. In Mexico the poinsettia is known as “La Flor de Noche Buena,” or Flower of the Holy Night. It is displayed around Dia de la Virgen on December 12th to celebrate the Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe). On this day people from all parts of Mexico make their way to the nation’s chief religious center at the Basilica of the Virgen of Guadalupe where a mass ceremony and traditional fair preside in her honor.
4. In the United States, December 12th is celebrated as National Poinsettia Day in remembrance of Joel Poinsett, who died on the same date in 1851. It is only coincidental that December 12th is the celebrated date of the poinsettia plant in both Mexico and USA!
5. Poinsettias are not poisonous. A study at Ohio State University showed that a 50-pound child would have to eat more than 500 leaves to have any harmful effect. However, poinsettia leaves have an awful taste, so you might want to keep your pets from snacking on poinsettia leaves. Eating the leaves can cause vomiting and diarrhea.
6. There are more than 100 varieties of poinsettias available today. Poinsettias come in colors like the traditional red, white, pink, burgundy, marbled and speckled. Poinsettias contribute over $250 million to the U.S. economy at the retail level and are the best selling potted plant in the United States and Canada.