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The Poinsettia

Besides the Christmas tree, there is no other plant that welcomes the Christmas Season as the poinsettia. Whether, a single plant or group of plants, the traditional deep crimson red color of foliage creates an ambiance of warmth, beauty and traditional holiday spirit. In addition to the color, the star-shaped leaf pattern is said to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem.

With over 61 million plants sold in the U.S., according to the USDA Floriculture Crops 2013 Summary, the poinsettia is the most popular pot plant used, especially six week prior to December 25th.

During the Christmas season, the poinsettia is used as accents or in mass groups in homes, local businesses, retailers, hospitals, hotels and many more locations. As we walk into a room with poinsettias, our eyes can’t help being drawn to the vibrant color in which they exhibit. The attraction is striking because of the dramatic visual contrast between their exceptional color and dark green background.



In nature, poinsettias are perennial flowering shrubs that were once considered weeds. A native to Mexico and Guatemala in Central America, in the 14th -16th century, the Aztecs called the poinsettia “Cuetlaxochitl”. Cuitllatl means “residue” and xochiti means “flower”, thus it is “The flower that grows in the residues or soil”. The Aztecs used the sap to control fevers and the bracts (modified leaves) to make a reddish dye and the historically used in their fall celebrations.

  1. Karl Ludwig Wilenow, a German botanist, assigned the botanical name of Euphorbia pulcherrima, meaning “very beautiful.” to this remarkable plant.
  2. The name and history of the poinsettia can be traced to efforts of a man named Joel Roberts Poinsett, an ambassador to Mexico, who introduced the plant to the U.S. in 1928. He brought cuttings from Mexico to his greenhouses in Greenville, South Carolina and shared cuttings with friends and other horticulturalists he knew at the time.
  3. 1863, William Prescott, a historian and horticulturalist, changed the name of the plant Euphorbia pulcherrima to “Poinsettia” in honor of Mr. Joel Roberts Poinsett.
  4. 1920s Albert Ecke and his son Paul from California, became propagated and introduced the plant to the public.
  5. 1923 to mid-1960’s, Albert Ecke and Paul Ecke propagated poinsettia mother plants and shipped them to plant nurseries around the country for further expansion of market in commercial sales. Paul personally promoted the plant nationwide and encouraged nursery owners to market.

In honor of Mr. Joel Roberts Poinsett, December 12th is considered Poinsettia Day. This date marks the
death of in 1851.a reddish dye and the historically used in their fall celebrations.

Foliage Color

Today, the colors of poinsettias are diverse. Besides the traditional vibrant crimson red foliage we are accustom to, hybridizers have expanded the range of colors from the familiar variations of the traditional crimson red and the colors, there are varying colors and shades of pink, purple, orange, white, or marbled are a few that are also available. Some examples of hybridized varieties include: Cortez Red, Cranberry Punch, Flirt, Galaxy Red, Marblestar, Nutcracker Pink, Monet, Plum Pudding, Silverstar White, Sonora Fire, Victory Red, White Christmas, Spotlight Apricot, Salmon and Pear l. As a result of hybridization techniques, there are now over 100 cultivars currently available

Many times the question is asked, how can and why do the leaves change color? Simply stated, the answer is due to the plants responses to the relative lengths of light and dark periods. The physiological reaction is a response to a term called photoperiodism. This term is used to describe the physiological reaction of organisms to the length of day or night.

In this case, poinsettias are considered a “short-day” plant, a term used to describe a plant that begins flowering when the day light hours are short and the night time is long. The critical day length is 10 hrs. long and is needed to obtain and retain the color of the plant.

Because of this reason, if you wish to prolong the flower throughout the holiday season, extra care of dark treatments placement will be needed.

If the dark period is interrupted by sunlight or any other artificial light from any source after October 1, flowering will be delayed or interrupted.Younger leaves are more responsive to a chemical signal that triggers the formation of a color of the bract are weaker in the occasional leaf, older leaves and less responsive if at all. In more detail, many flowering plants use a photoreceptor protein, such as phytochrome or cryptochrome, to sense changes between daylight and the darkness of night or photoperiod, which they take as signals to flower.

to be continue…

Author: Brent Jeansonne

LSU AgCenter, Baton Rouge, LA – Horticulturist – Northwest Region