Party on Poinsettia

December 11, 2011 10:08 pm

When my husband and sons talk about football, basketball, and baseball, I am at a loss.  I am amazed at the amount of stats and factoids they can spout.  They know every pro’s age and where they went to college.  They can tell you every college player’s height, weight, position, and where they went to high school.  Really.  Those conversations do not include me, ever.


I am a fanatic about plants and if my husband or sons show the least little interest, I am off and running!  My husband recently made the mistake of commenting on a Poinsettia and the following dialogue was his consequence.


“Did you know December 12th is Poinsettia Day?” (I’ve certainly asked him this before.)




Yes, it marks the death of Joel Roberts Poinsett in 1851. Do you know who Joel Robert Poinsett is?


“A  French man?”


Poinsett was a botanist, physician and the first United States Ambassador to Mexico.  He is credited with introducing the plant to our country in 1828 when he sent cuttings from Southern Mexico to his home in Charleston, South Carolina.  The Poinsettia is named after him.  That is why it is capitalized, because it is named after a person.  You know it is pronounced “poin-setta”, right?




The Poinsettia’s association with Christmas began in 16th century Mexico.  Legend has it a young girl who was too poor to provide a gift for Jesus’ birth was inspired by an angel to gather weeds from the roadside and place them in front of the church altar.  Crimson “blossoms” sprouted from the weeds and became beautiful poinsettias.  Did you know the red part is not the flower, the tiny yellow part in the center is? The showy red part is a modified leaf, called a bract.  The colors of the bracts are created through “photoperiodism.”  If you want the green leaves to turn red, put the plant in a dark place for 12 hours a day for at least five days in a row.  When the leaves turn to colorful bracts, let the plant have as much light as possible to make the color brightest.  Isn’t that cool?




There are over a hundred varieties of Poinsettias these days, not just red.  You can find yellow, white, pink, salmon, and some, like ‘Jingle Bells,’ are mottled with red and cream.


“I like red.”


Urban legend has it that in 1919 a two-year-old child ate a poinsettia leaf and died.  POISINDEX and Ohio State University studies suggest a 50-pound child would need to eat at least 500 bracts (1.25 lbs!) to have any side effects.


“My mother always told me they were poisonous.”


Well, the sap can be a skin irritant.  Poinsettias contribute over $250 million to the US economy at the retail level.  Most are sold within a six- week period leading up to Christmas.  But in Spain, it is known as an Easter flower.  Paul Ecke Jr. is known as the father of the Poinsettia industry because he discovered a technique which caused the seedlings to branch resulting in a fuller, less weedy, plant.  The Ecke family kept this secret until 1991 when a university graduate student published an article describing a method for said desirable effect.  Flourishing competition resulted, especially from Europe, causing a decrease of Ecke’s share of the market  The Paul Ecke Ranch in California grows over 70% of all Poinsettias purchased in the United States and about 50% of worldwide sales.  Recently the nearly 100-year-old family-owned and operated ranch was acquired by the Dutch-based Agribio Group.


I have oh so much more but I have lost him.  I try to reel him back…You know the Poinsettia Bowl?


“Yea, San Diego, since 1952, NCAA military services championship game.”


Now we are talking!


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