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The Poinsettia: Fun Facts, Tips and Myths

All About the Christmas Flower, And What's Up With That Poisonous Reputation?

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In the hearts and minds and on the porches and entryways of thousands of home decorators, the poinsettia is still the official Christmas plant. With the availability of poinsettias offered at lower prices from big-box retailers, discount and grocery stores, many independent garden centers and growers have seen a decline in sales in recent years.

Consumer polls still show poinsettias to be the season's favorite plant. Maybe it's the different colors and varieties in which it comes, it's rich history and tradition or the mystery and folklore that surrounds the Mexican native. Let's find out more about this exotic beauty.

Are Poinsettias Poisonous?

picture of early joy poinsettia
Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor
First off, let's tackle that elephant in the room. Stories run rampant about the poisonous properties of poinsettias. Among them: poinsettias are toxic -- even lethal -- to people and pets. Truth: Curious puppies and kittens may chew on any plant, so err on the side of caution, suggests Janet Tobiassen Crosby, About.com Guide to Veterinary Medicine. Place the plants up high and out of reach until your pets are older. I have a two-dog, two-cat household and have brought poinsettias into the house and yard each year without incident.

According to the POISINDEX information source - the go-to resource used by the most poison control centers nationwide - a 50-pound child would have to eat more thn 500 poinsettia leaves to reach an even potentially toxic dose of compounds in the poinsettia plant. So maybe forget about that poinsettia-packed pesto recipe.

Can I Make a Cocktail From Poinsettias?

No, you can't make a cocktail out of a poinsettia. Sorry.

However, there is a festive seasonal cocktail called a Poinsettia. It's made with cranberry juice, Cointreau or triple sec and champagne. There's also a recipe for a pomegranate poinsettia cocktail. Cheers!

Can I Make a Poinsettia Salad?

All those mini Euro lettuces with Poinsettias sure would make a sensational seasonal salad. And the milky white sap could mix in with the ranch dressing.

Seriously, no. But there are recipes for poinsettia salads, possibly named so for their color and festivity factor.

Do Poinsettias Have Medicinal Properties?

Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor
Like many plants, poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) were used for medicinal purposes. The ancient Aztecs used the milky sap of the poinsettia plant to treat fevers. Don't try this at home.

How Did the Poinsettia Myth Start?

According to various sources, in 1919 an Army officer stationed in Hawaii found his 2-year-old child dead underneath a poinsettia tree, a leaf in his/her hand. Versions of the story have perpetuated, even though there are no documented reports of poinsettia fatalities.

The fact is no one has ever died from ingesting poinsettia. To disprove this undying myth, members of the Society of American Florists frequently eat poinsettias for the press in December.

Where is the Poinsettia From?

ice punch poinsettia picture
Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor
If you've heard that the poinsettia is from Mexico or Central America, than it's true. Flor de Nochebuena's peak blooming season is during November and December in the Mexican states of Oaxaca and Guerrero, where it can reach up to 12 feet in height. It also can be grown in other warm-winter regions, like Southern California (Encinitas in San Diego County is the poinsettia-growing capitol) and the Hawaiian islands.

Do I Have to Stick Them in a Closet to Rebloom?

Right. Put them in a closet where you'll forget about them until they dry out and leave a powdery substance all over last year's boots. Still, if are determined to rebloom your poinsettia plants, follow the instructions outlined in detail by Marie Ianotti, About.com Guide to Gardening.

Can I Grow Blue Poinsettias With Glitter?

If you can, share your secret. Otherwise, those blue, purple (not plum), glittery and tinted poinsettias you've seen at a local store has been tinted, sprayed, sprinkled, hairsprayed and had things done to it that would make all the natural poinsettias laugh it out of the greenhouse. They do that with carnations and other popular flowers too. But if you like it, that's fine too. Just don't try to grow one.

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