Poinsettias are the quintessential indoor plant during the holiday season.
Revered throughout Mexican history for their vibrant red leaves and significance to Christmas, Poinsettias are a massive commercial success and can be found adorning households around the world.
In our Poinsettia plant profile below, you'll learn about the many benefits this beautiful plant has to offer.
Read our poinsettia plant profile post below to learn:
- How to maintain and care for poinsettia in your house.
- The best growing conditions for your poinsettia.
- The history of poinsettia and its association with the holidays.
- Fun facts and so much more.
By the way, our Poinsettia plant profile guide below is meant for anyone who wants to learn more about this plant. We hope you enjoy it!
Why We're Featuring a Poinsettia Plant Profile
First, holiday season and Poinsettias go hand in hand. They are the iconic holiday and Christmas plant due to decades of persistent marketing. By placing these plants on table-tops, near fireplaces, end tables, or elsewhere, they succeed
in adding beautiful pops of color around the house to enjoy during the month of December (and beyond).
In addition, these indoor plants are really easy to maintain. Their vibrant colors can last a good length of time if watered and cared for properly. They need bright, but filtered light and will flower in the winter. Their low maintenance needs are perfect for a beginning gardener who would like to care for an indoor plant.
Finally, we're featuring the Poinsettia because of their interesting history and cultural significance. Native to Central America, their roots can be traced back to the Ancient Aztecs.
Poinsettia Plant Profile: Brief History
Poinsettia Family Group
Poinsettias are in the Euphorbiaceae plant family. Also known as the Spurge family, this family group has more than 7,500 species of flowering plants mainly found in the tropics. Common characteristics between the members of this family group include colorful bracts (leaf structures) and milky sap-like juice, some of which can be extremely toxic depending on species. Other family members include Crown-of-Thorns, Mexican Jumping Bean, and the castor oil plant (Ricinus communis) to name a few.
Poinsettia History of Use
Poinsettia has an interesting history going back to 14th Century Mexico. Research indicates that the Poinsettia was used by the Aztecs as early as the 14th Century for dyes and medicine. They cleverly used the leaves, or bracts, as a dye for clothing, possibly makeup or other purposes. The white sap was used as a medicine to control fevers.
Eventually, Poinsettias began to show up in 16th Century Mexico and became symbolic of Christmas. A legend explains how a young girl, too poor to leave a gift for Jesus on Christmas, offered a handful of weeds which angels turned into beautiful, red Poinsettias.
In the 1800s, Dr. Joel R. Poinsett introduced the Poinsettia to the United States around 1825. Poinsett was a botanist, physician and the first United States Ambassador to Mexico. Upon finding the Poinsettia shrub in the wild, he brought samples back to his greenhouse in South Carolina. Eventually, the Poinsettia was named after Joel R. Poinsett.
By the early 1900s, the Poinsettia was cultivated for commercial sale during the holidays and the rest is history.
Currently, the Poinsettia is one of the most popular indoor plants during the holiday season and especially Christmas.
If you want to read more about the history of Poinsettias, check out The American Phytopathological Society
Poinsettias Around the World
Poinsettias are sub-tropical plants that are native to southern Mexico and Central America. Here they grow in the wild as shrubs or small trees.
From Mexico, they found their way to the United States by the 18th century as explained above. What began as an interest in their beautiful colors literally bloomed into the holiday-plant industry we see today.
Symbolically, Poinsettia flowers have become a symbol of Christmas and are used as festive decor. In Mexican culture, the red leaves are symbolic of the blood of Jesus and the star-shaped leaf pattern is said to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem.
Today, Poinsettias continue to grace homes during the holiday season in much of North America. In addition, they are celebrated on December 12 which was designated as "National Poinsettia Day" in the U.S. due to the death of John Poinsett on this day in 1851.
Now that you’ve caught up on a brief history, let's move on to the common characteristics of Poinsettia.
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"The Gardener's Guide to Poinsettia" Plant Profile
|Common/Trade Name||Poinsettia (pronounced Poin-sett-e-a)|
|Botanical/Scientific Name||Euphorbia pulcherrima|
|Cultivars||Single-Form Bracts; Double-Form Bracts. No specific cultivars to speak of.|
|Zones||USDA - hardy to zones 5 to 9; Sunset - grows in zones 13, 16-24, and H1, H2, and indoors.|
|General Information||In the Euphorbiaceae family with over 7,500 different species.|
This species is most known for it's brightly colored "flowers" which aren't actually flowers at all, but modified leaves called bracts. The actual flower is in the center of the bracts and is inconspicuous. Plant only blooms when it experiences long nights; from winter into spring.
|Native Environment||Native to Mexico.|
|Plant Type||Can be an evergreen, semi-evergreen, or a deciduous shrub depending on where it is grown.|
|Water Needs||Keep soil moist, but do not let water stand in saucer or let soil get water-logged.|
|Mature Height/Width||In native Mexico or similar climate, it can get up to 10 feet tall and 6 feet wide.|
|Bloom Time||Winter to early spring.|
|Flower Colors||Red in single-flower (bracts) form. Double-flower (bracts) forms come in red, white, pink, yellowish, and marbled.|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun and light shade only in Zone 13.|
|Growth Habit||Small to medium shrub; upright.|
|Soil Needs||Well-draining soil.|
|Fertilize||Only fertilize if in really nutrient poor soils. You can enhance the color of the bracts by fertilizing every 2-weeks with high nitrogen starting when the color starts to show.|
|Plant Spacing||If under native conditions, plan to plant on 3-4 foot centers. If potted and indoors, space pot to pot.|
|Suggested Companion/Arrangement Plants||Other Euphorbia species, Chrysanthemum, Holly, Ornamental Pepper, Christmas Cactus, Kalancho, Caladium, Cyclamen, Azaleas, Peace Lily, or Maidenhair Fern.|
|Maintenance Level||For the Holidays, keep in a sunny window and water, but don't let sit in standing water. Avoid sudden temperature changes and don't let leaves or stems touch window as this will lead to cold damage.|
To hold over after Holidays and use in your garden, let leaves drop off and then cut stems back to the last two buds. Store in a dark, cool, but dry area until the threat of frost is gone in the Spring and then set out in your garden in pot. If hardy to your local climate, you can plant directly in the ground in a protected area if frosty in fall and winter. Once planted outside, little to no watering is needed and not much maintenance if planted in correct location for native growth pattern.
|Pest Susceptibility||Susceptible to Aphids, Thrips, Leaf-Miners, Spider-Mites, and others. Less stress to plant, the less these and other insects or diseases will be present.|
|Poisonous to Pets?||Can be toxic to dogs, cats, and horses, but to others too. Irritating to mouth and stomach, with sometimes causing vomiting.|
|Edible for Humans?||Milky sap is not considered to be poisonous. Can be irritating to stomach and skin, though.|
|Fun (or historical) Facts||- Poinsettia's are the national emblem of Madagascar.|
- There is a "Poinsettia Day" in the United States on December 12th, in honor of Joel Poinsett who died on this day in 1851.
- Are native to Mexico and parts of Central America.
- Montezuma was known to adorn his palace with Poinsettia's.
- Central Americans cultivated Poinsettia's as a gift from the gods.
Poinsettia Plant Profile: Product Recommendations
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Poinsettia Plant Profile: Conclusion
Today, Poinsettias are one of the most popular holiday plants during Christmas season. Whether you are getting ready for your holiday parties and get-togethers or just want to liven up your home or office for the Holidays, Poinsettia's will give you that cheer and color you need! Not to mention this plant's rich history and age-old symbolism.
With very little maintenance necessary, their bright colors and vibrant history, Poinsettia's are the iconic holiday plant and can add to (most) indoor or outdoor gardens with their unique form, color, and seasonality.
Well, that's all for now.
Thanks for reading and we hope we inspired you or educated you in some way with our Poinsettia plant profile. For more information about other plants in your garden, check out some of our other monthly plant profiles below:
- The Gardener's Guide to Dianthus
- The Gardener's Guide to Chrysanthemums
- Hello Hellebore! January Plant Profile
- A Rose By Any Other Name: February Plant Profile
- The Divine Daffodil: March Plant Profile
See you in the garden!
~ Sean and Allison
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