Poinsettias are a beautiful flowering plant that people commonly associate with Christmas and give to each other during the holiday season. Though sometimes mistaken for flowers, the bright red or white parts of poinsettias are actually leaves, known as "bracts." If you're interested in learning more about these fascinating flowers, here are five fun facts about the Christmas plant:
1. Are Poinsettias Poisonous?
A common misconception about poinsettias is that they're poisonous to young children or pets, but that's actually not true at all. The rumor is largely based on the plant's milky sap, which has been known to irritate people's skin, especially if they have a latex allergy. Poinsettias are part of the Euphorbiaceae family of plants, many of which release a similar sap, but rest assured, parents – studies have shown that it isn't poisonous at all. Poinsettias shouldn't be eaten, though, because they'll likely cause an upset stomach, so do your best to keep them away from young children and pets anyway.
2. National Poinsettia Day
The U.S. has been celebrating National Poinsettia Day on Dec. 12 since the mid-1800s, after the plant's namesake, Joel Roberts Poinsett, died in 1851. Poinsett was a botanist who brought the plant into the U.S. for the first time in 1928 after discovering it in Mexico. Mexicans have been using the plant for centuries – in fact, the Aztecs used the red leaves to dye their clothes! When Poinsett discovered the plant by a road in Texas, he was so interested in it that he sent cuttings of its leaves back to his plantation in South Carolina for further study. He then began to breed it in his greenhouse.
3. Why is the Poinsettia Popular around Christmastime?
There are a few different theories for why the plant is so widely associated with Christmas, but the most popular is based on an old Mexican legend. The legend tells the story of a young girl who couldn't afford to buy Jesus a birthday gift, so she picked a bouquet of weeds from the ground and laid them next to a nativity scene. As soon as she set them down, the weeds burst into beautiful red flowers. Poinsettias are also thought to symbolize the blood and purity of Christ, along with the Star of Bethlehem.
4. Poinsettias Have Many Nicknames
Poinsettias have garnered many nicknames over the years. In Mexico, the flowers are known as "la flor de la nochebuena," which translates to "flower of the holy night." Chileans and Peruvians refer to the plant as "the Crown of the Andes," and Americans have been known to call them lobster or flame-leaf flowers based on their color.
5. They Make Great Gifts
Poinsettias are the No. 1 best-selling potted flowering plant in the U.S., with red poinsettias far outselling white and other varieties. Not surprisingly, the majority of the plant's abundant sales happen during the six weeks before Christmas. Give Teleflora's Fruit and Poinsettia Basket as a Christmas gift this year, or decorate your own home with Teleflora's Holiday Homecoming Basket, both of which feature beautiful red poinsettias.