Wacky Facts About Poinsettias

There are plenty of urban myths pinned onto poinsettias. But there are also fun facts, and I thought we might explore them. See what you think.

Poinsettias are not poisonous! I’m a graduate of Ohio State, and the research was done there back in the 1970s. But news apparently travels slowly. They are not poisonous! Run it through Snopes, the fact-checking website. Here’s their link. Read for yourself.

True yellow poinsettia flowers are just beginning to show in the centers of these floral bracts.

All poinsettia flowers are yellow. That’s true. The brightly colored “petals” for which we buy and give these beautiful plants are actually modified leaves, not parts of the true flower at all. They’re called “floral bracts.” The true poinsettia flowers are those pea-sized, golden yellow, taco-shaped structures filled with honey-like goo that you’ll find at the growing tips of the stems.

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Poinsettias are actually shrubs or small trees. But that’s because they come from tropical regions where temperatures never drop below freezing. The plants keep growing and growing until they’re 10 or 12 feet tall and wide. Truth is, if you set this year’s poinsettia out in your yard in March or April, and if you give it all the water and fertilizer it needs, it might grow as tall as your eaves by the time the first freeze arrives next November. But do read on.

White poinsettias were marketed for a short while as Easter flowers 50 years ago, but that went over quite poorly. Many like them, however, for the purity of their looks at Christmas.

The larger the poinsettia plant, the smaller its individual floral bracts will be. That’s because there will be so many more of them. That 10-foot-tall plant might have several hundred bracts, but each would be only 4 or 5 inches across. By comparison, a well-grown plant in a 6-inch flowerpot may have a single bract that’s 12 inches tip-to-tip.

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And can you imagine that the plant that you have in your home was nothing more than an unrooted cutting just 110 days ago! This is what I meant when I said they’re “predictable.” Growers have perfected the science of growing this fabulous plant. Rooted cuttings are potted in August, grown pot-to-pot for a few weeks, then placed at their ultimate spacing with watering tubes inserted into each container. No crop that greenhouse growers produce is any more spectacular any more quickly.

Prestige Red poinsettia – how beautiful can a plant be!

Not to be snobbish, but you may be mispronouncing the plant’s name in the first place. It has four syllables (poin-set-ee-uh), not three. For some unexplained reason, the second “i” (“ee”) is forgotten by many. Even my horticultural friends are occasionally caught taking the shortcut. I was talking to one of my very best friends last night – the man who grew all the poinsettias in these photos, and he pronounced the plant’s name both ways in the same sentence. But I decided not to say anything because I can’t hold a candle to his abilities as a grower!

That’s enough of the fun facts from horticulture. I have presents to wrap and cookies to eat.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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