POINSETTIAS

550px-Weihnachtsstern_-_groß.jpgNamesakes

  • In Nahuatl , the language of the Aztecs, the Poinsettia was called Cuitlaxochitl (from cuitlatl, for residue, and xochitl, for flower), meaning "flower that grows in residues or soil."

  • Today the plant is known in Mexico and Guatemala as "La Flor de la Nochebuena" (Flower of the Holy Night, or Christmas Eve).

  • In Chile and Peru, the Poinsettia is called the "Crown of the Andes".

  • In Spain the Poinsettia has a different holiday attribution. It is known there as "Flor de Pascua", meaning "Easter flower".

  • Poinsettias have also been called the lobster flower and the flame-leaf flower, due to the red color.

  • Poinsettias received their name in the United States in honor of Joel Roberts Poinsett, who introduced the plant into the country in 1828. Poinsett was a botanist, physician and the first United States Ambassador to Mexico. He sent cuttings of the plant he had discovered in Southern Mexico to his home in Charleston, South Carolina. The word Poinsettia is traditionally capitalized because it is named after a person.

History

  • The Aztecs called poinsettias "Cuetlaxochitl." During the 14th - 16th century the sap was used to control fevers and the bracts (modified leaves) were used to make a reddish dye.

  • Montezuma, the last of the Aztec kings, would have poinsettias brought into what now is Mexico City by caravans because poinsettias could not be grown in the high altitude.

  • In the 17th century, Juan Balme, a botanist, noted the poinsettia plant in his writings.

  • The botanical name, Euphorbia pulcherrima, was assigned to the poinsettia by the German botanist, Wilenow. The plant grew through a crack in his greenhouse. Dazzled by its color, he gave it the botanical name, Euphorbia pulcherrima meaning "very beautiful."

  • Joel Roberts Poinsett was the first United States Ambassador to Mexico being appointed by President John Quincy Adams in the 1820's. At the time of his appointment, Mexico was involved in a civil war. Because of his interest in botany he introduced the American elm into Mexico. During his stay in Mexico he wandered the countryside looking for new plant species. In 1828 he found a beautiful shrub with large red flowers growing next to a road. He took cuttings from the plant and brought them back to his greenhouse in South Carolina. Even though Poinsett had an outstanding career as a United States Congressman and as an ambassador he will always be remembered for introducing the poinsettia into the United States.

  • William Prescott, a historian and horticulturist, was asked to give Euphorbia pulcherrima a new name as it became more popular. At that time Mr. Prescott had just published a book called the ‘Conquest of Mexico’ in which he detailed Joel Poinsett’s discovery of the plant. Prescott named the plant the poinsettia in honor of Joel Poinsett’s discovery.

  • A nursery worker from Pennsylvania, John Bartram is credited as being the first person to sell poinsettias under its botanical name, Euphorbia pulcherrima

  • In the early 1900's the Ecke family of southern California grew poinsettias outdoors for use as landscape plants and as a cut flower. Eventually the family grew poinsettias in greenhouses and today the family business is recognized as the leading producer of poinsettias in the United States.


Family Ties

  • Poinsettias are part of the Euphorbiaceae or Spurge family. Botanically, the plant is known as Euphorbia pulcherrima

Poinsettia
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Scientific classification

Kingdom:

Plantae

(unranked):

Angiosperms

(unranked):

Eudicots

(unranked):

Rosids

Order:

Malpighiales

Family:

Euphorbiaceae

Genus:

Euphorbia

Species:

E. pulcherrima


Binomial name
Euphorbia pulcherrima
Willd. ex Klotzsch

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  • The vibrant colored parts of Poinsettias that most people think of as the flowers are actually colored bracts. The yellow flowers, or cyathia, are in the center of the colorful bracts. The plant drops its bracts and leaves soon after those flowers shed their pollen. For the longest-lasting Poinsettias, choose plants with little or no yellow pollen showing.

  • Many plants in the Euphorbiaceae family ooze a milky sap. Due to the sap, some people with latex allergies have had a skin reaction after touching the leaves.

  • Despite rumors to the contrary, Poinsettias are not poisonous. A study at Ohio State University showed that a 50-pound child would have to eat more than a pound-and-a-quarter of Poinsettia leaves (500 to 600 leaves) to have any side effects. The most common side effects that have been reported from Poinsettia ingestions are upset stomach and vomiting. The leaves are reportedly not very tasty, so it is highly unlikely that kids or even pets would be able to eat that many! But be aware that the leaves can still be a choking hazard for children and pets.

  • In nature, Poinsettias are perennial flowering shrubs that were once considered weeds.

  • Poinsettias are not frost-tolerant. They will grow outdoors in temperate coastal climates, such as Southern California beach communities. In the ground, they can reach 10 feet tall.

  • The colors of the bracts are created through "photoperiodism", meaning that they require darkness (12 hours at a time for at least five days in a row) to change color. On the other hand, once Poinsettias finish that process, the plants require abundant light during the day for the brightest color


Distribution and Other Numbers

  • There are over 100 varieties of Poinsettias available. Though once only available in red, there are now Poinsettias in pink, white, yellow, purple, salmon, and multi-colors. They have names like 'Premium Picasso', 'Monet Twilight', 'Shimmer', and 'Surprise'.

  • The red Poinsettia still dominates over other color options. 'Prestige Red'--one of many poinsettias patented by Ecke--ranks among the best-selling hybrids.

  • Poinsettias contribute over $250 million to the U.S. economy at the retail level.

  • California is the top U.S. Poinsettia-producing state.

  • Poinsettias are the best selling potted plant in the United States and Canada.

  • Poinsettias are the most popular Christmas plant. Most Poinsettias are sold within a six-week period leading up to that holiday, representing some $60 million worth.

  • It is estimated that women account for 80% of Poinsettia sales


The American Poinsettia Industry

Albert Ecke emigrated from Germany to Los Angeles in 1900, opening a dairy and orchard in the Eagle Rock area. He became intrigued by the plant and sold them from street stands. His son, Paul Ecke, developed the grafting technique, but it was the third generation of Eckes, Paul Ecke, Jr., who was responsible for advancing the association between the plant and Christmas. Besides changing the market from mature plants shipped by rail to cuttings sent by air, he sent free plants to television stations for them to display on air from Thanksgiving to Christmas. He also appeared on television programs like The Tonight Show and Bob Hope's Christmas specials to promote the plants.

Until the 1990s, the Ecke family, who had moved their operation to Encinitas, California in 1923, had a virtual monopoly on poinsettias owing to a technological secret that made their plants much more attractive. The Ecke family's key to producing more desirable poinsettias was to create a fuller, more compact plant, by grafting two varieties of poinsettia together. A poinsettia left to grow on its own will naturally take an open, somewhat weedy look. The Eckes' technique made it possible to get every seedling to branch, resulting in a bushier plant.

In the 1990s, a university researcher discovered the method previously known only to the Eckes and published it, allowing competitors to flourish, particularly those using low-cost labor in Latin America. The Ecke family's business, now led by Paul Ecke III, decided to stop producing plants in the U.S., but as of 2008, they still serve about 70% of the domestic market and 50% of the worldwide market.

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Citations