Poinsettias are one of those plants we just, well, sort of take for granted. Let’s face it, they’re everywhere this season—as they are every year. Don’t get me wrong; I love them and buy several every holiday.
Yet, how much do we really know about this traditional holiday plant? Or more importantly, how much do we think we know? The poinsettia has long been dogged by many myths. Maybe just for fun it’s time to test your knowledge by taking a little quiz:
TRUE or FALSE?
1. During the 14th through 16th centuries, the Aztecs used the poinsettia’s sap in construction materials and its brachts (leaves) to make wine.
2. The German botanist Wilenow gave the poinsettia its botanical name, Euphorbia pulcherrima, which means “very beautiful.”
3. The poinsettia got its name from Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first American to swim from Cuba to Mexico.
4. While exploring the Mexico countryside, Poinsett, a botany enthusiast, discovered a beautiful shrub with large red flowers, took cuttings from it, and brought them back to his greenhouse in South Carolina.
5. Poinsett founded the Washington institution now known as the Smithsonian.
6. The poinsettia eventually became known as a Christmas plant because it can be found blooming in Mexico only for a short period of time around Christmas.
7. December 12 is celebrated as National Poinsettia Day, marking the date of Poinsett’s death.
8. Poinsettia breeding and hybridization have led to a wide spectrum of bloom colors beyond the traditional red and includes even blue.
9. Poinsettias are one of the most poisonous plants around.
10. As tropical plants, poinsettias prefer lots of sunlight and warm temperatures of 80 to 90 degrees and cool breezes.
BONUS: Poinsettias should be treated as annuals because they will not re-bloom the next season.
- False. They used the sap to control fevers and the brachts to make a red dye.
- False. Poinsett was the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico.
- False. This is the most widely held myth about the plant. Extensive research has proved the plant is to be non-toxic – though like many plants, it can cause upset stomach if ingested.
- False. They do prefer lots of sunlight but daytime temperatures of only 65 to 70 degrees and at night, 55 to 60 degrees. They also do not like cold drafts so often need to be placed away from windows and doors.
Bonus: False. Although it can be tricky and time-consuming, poinsettias can be encouraged to re-bloom again.