Green Thumb: Poinsettias a festive symbol of season
by Angela Swenson
Nov 21, 2013 | 2170 views | 0 0 comments | 28 28 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I love poinsettias. Growing up, I recall seeing red, showy flowers at the end of November into December, and that meant it was the beginning of the holidays.

Nowadays, there are more than 100 varieties. Besides red, poinsettias come in white, pink, burgundy, marbled and speckled. I even saw some last year dressed up with glitter.

Poinsettias originated in Mexico, where they are perennial shrubs that can grow 10 to 15 feet tall.

They are part of the Euphorbiaceae, or spurge, family, which means the plants contain a milky sap. Botanically, poinsettias are known as Euphorbia pulcherrima. Some people who are sensitive to latex might find the leaves of poinsettias or the milky sap slightly irritating.

Joel Roberts Poinsett, a botanist and physician, introduced poinsettias to our country while he was the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico.

Poinsett died Dec. 12, 1851, and the anniversary of his death is now known as Poinsettia Day. In Mexico, Dec. 12 is the day of the Virgen de Guadalupe, which is celebrated with poinsettias.

These days, California produces more poinsettias than any other state. In 2012, the Ecke Ranch in Encinitas was producing 70 percent of all the poinsettias purchased in the United States and 50 percent of those sold worldwide.

Whether you receive a poinsettia as a gift or buy one, it’s fun to know the basic parts of this plant.

The colorful sprays that we see as flowers are actually bracts, which are modified leaves. The botanical flowers of the plant are the tiny yellow-greenish nubs in the center of the brightly colored bracts.

Potted poinsettias usually come wrapped in colorful foil. You can take it off right away or poke holes in the bottom of the foil to let water run out.

Try not to water your plant too much or too little. If you have excess water in the foil or saucer after watering, just dump it out.

Poinsettias don’t tolerate frost, so keep them near a south-facing window with indirect light. Try not to have the leaves touch the glass. Poinsettias do not like drafts, but otherwise they are pretty easy to take care of. You can easily keep them for six to eight weeks.

Studies have been done to show that poinsettias are not poisonous, so you can compost them when you’re done. For more information, go to

If you want to keep your poinsettias all year long, check out some helpful suggestions at

Have a wonderful and colorful holiday season.

Sources: University of Illinois Extension, Michigan State University Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida Extension.

• The Green Thumb is a column by Tracy’s master gardeners. University of California-certified master gardeners are available to answer gardening questions from 9 a.m. to noon Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 953-6112 or

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