Interesting Facts About Poinsettias - U of I Extension

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Interesting Facts About Poinsettias

This article was originally published on November 27, 2013 and expired on December 30, 2013. It is provided here for archival purposes and may contain dated information.

URBANA, Ill. – No flower says Christmas like the beautiful poinsettia.

Ron Wolford, a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator, offers a few facts about this traditional Christmas plant.

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

Many plants in the Euphorbiaceae family ooze a milky sap. Some people with latex allergies have had a skin reaction (most likely to the sap) after touching the leaves. For pets, the poinsettia sap may cause mild irritation or nausea.

"It's probably best to keep pets away from the plant, especially puppies and kittens," Wolford said.

The horticulture educator explained that poinsettias are not actually poisonous. "A study at The Ohio State University showed that a 50-pound child would have to eat more than 500 leaves to have any harmful effect. Plus poinsettia leaves have an awful taste. You might want to keep your pets from snacking on poinsettia leaves. Eating the leaves can cause vomiting and diarrhea," he said.

The showy colored parts of poinsettias that most people think of as the flowers are actually colored bracts (modified leaves). Poinsettias have also been called the lobster flower and the flame-leaf flower, due to the red color.

Joel Roberts Poinsett introduced the poinsettia plant to the United States from Mexico. Poinsett was a botanist, physician and the first United States ambassador to Mexico. "In Mexico, the poinsettia is a perennial shrub that will grow 10 to 15 feet tall," Wolford noted.

With more than 100 varieties available today, poinsettias come in colors like the traditional red, white, pink, burgundy, marbled, and speckled. The Paul Ecke Ranch in California grows over 70 percent of all poinsettias purchased in the United States and accounts for about 50 percent of the worldwide sales of poinsettias.

December 12 is National Poinsettia Day, which marks the death of Joel Roberts Poinsett in 1851.

For more information about poinsettias, visit the U of I Extension website "Poinsettia Pages" at

Source: Ron Wolford, Extension Educator, Horticulture,

Pull date: December 30, 2013