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A Few Facts About Poinsettias


Published: Friday, December 1, 2017

No flower says Christmas like the beautiful poinsettia, according to Ron Wolford, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator. "Let's learn a few facts and dispel some misconceptions about this traditional Christmas plant."

Poinsettias are part of the Euphorbiaceae or spurge family. Botanically, the plant is known as Euphorbia pulcherrima. Joel Roberts Poinsett introduced the poinsettia plant to the United States from Mexico. Poinsett was a botanist, physician, and the first United States ambassador to Mexico. 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, you might want to keep your pets from snacking on poinsettia leaves. Eating the leaves can cause vomiting and diarrhea.

Many plants in the Euphorbiaceae family ooze a milky sap. Some people with latex allergies have had skin reactions—most likely to the sap—after touching the leaves. For pets, the poinsettia sap can cause mild irritation or nausea. The best approach is to keep pets away from the plant, especially puppies and kittens. Who would want to eat poinsettia leaves anyway? They are reported to have an awful taste.

The showy colored parts of poinsettias that most people think of as the flowers are colored "bracts," otherwise known as modified or specialized leaves. Because of their red color, poinsettias have been called the lobster flower and the flame-leaf flower.

In Mexico, the poinsettia is a perennial shrub that will grow 10 to 15 feet tall. There are more than 100 varieties of poinsettias available today. Poinsettias come in colors like red, white, pink, burgundy, yellow, apricot, marbled and speckled.

Dec. 12 is Poinsettia Day, which marks the death of Joel Roberts Poinsett in 1851.

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