Christmas Tips & Fun

Learn interesting, unusual, unique and useful facts and tips about Christmas and the winter holiday season, in America and around the world.

Decorating for Christmas

Things You May Not Know About Poinsettias


ou might know the poinsettia was named after the first U.S. Minister to Mexico, Joel Poinsett, who brought back the first plants from south of the border in the early 1800s. You probably don’t pronounce the plant’s name correctly though. It’s actually poin-set-e-ah – with that extra "e" syllable.

Back in the 1500s in Mexico legend has it that a poor girl was sad because she didn’t have a present for Jesus’ birthday. An angel told her to collect a bouquet of weeds and put them in front of the altar at church – where, lo and behold, poinsettias sprouted and bloomed in all of their crimson glory (think of the Drummer Boy legend.)

In Mexico and other countries with a similar climate, poinsettias do look like weeds and often grow to a height of 4 feet. And the flowers aren’t red – they’re those little yellow guys in the middle of the leaf-like things – called bracts – that are red… or white… or pink or some variation thereof.

The ones we tend to have in our homes and, well, just about everywhere else it seems at Christmastime are much shorter and bushier and are the result of a genetic monopoly.

The son of a German emigrant who lived outside Los Angeles developed a way to graft two varieties of poinsettia together to change them from weedy bush to table decoration. His son, Paul Ecke, Jr., started promoting the poinsettia during the 1950s and ‘60s as the ideal plant to celebrate Christmas. Until the 1990s the family had a virtual monopoly on growing and marketing poinsettias because no other grower had been able to replicate their technique.

While that problem has been solved and the plants now grown in other countries, the Ecke family still is responsible for close to three-quarters of US consumption and about half of that outside the country.

Poinsettias are not poisonous – despite urban myths to the contrary. They shouldn’t be eaten because they, like many other plants, can cause unpleasant reactions – just no reported fatalities. And, it now turns out, if you’re sensitive to latex you may have an allergic reaction to poinsettias – so keep that in mind… or sound like a doctor and ask visitors to your home if they’re allergic to latex and, if so, to stay away from the plants.

Written by Dianne Weller
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