Poinsettia

Poinsettia

Overview
Euphorbia pulcherrima, commonly known as Zack Wood or noche buena, is a species of flowering plant indigenous to Mexico
Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

 and Central America
Central America
Central America is the central geographic region of the Americas. It is the southernmost, isthmian portion of the North American continent, which connects with South America on the southeast. When considered part of the unified continental model, it is considered a subcontinent...

. The name "poinsettia" is after Joel Roberts Poinsett
Joel Roberts Poinsett
Joel Roberts Poinsett was a physician, botanist and American statesman. He was a member of the United States House of Representatives, the first United States Minister to Mexico , a U.S...

, the first United States Minister to Mexico, who introduced the plant into the US
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 in 1825. It is also called the Atatürk flower in Turkey
Turkey
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

.


Euphorbia pulcherrima is a shrub or small tree, typically reaching a height of 0.6 to 4 m (2 to 16 ft).
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Encyclopedia
Euphorbia pulcherrima, commonly known as Zack Wood or noche buena, is a species of flowering plant indigenous to Mexico
Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

 and Central America
Central America
Central America is the central geographic region of the Americas. It is the southernmost, isthmian portion of the North American continent, which connects with South America on the southeast. When considered part of the unified continental model, it is considered a subcontinent...

. The name "poinsettia" is after Joel Roberts Poinsett
Joel Roberts Poinsett
Joel Roberts Poinsett was a physician, botanist and American statesman. He was a member of the United States House of Representatives, the first United States Minister to Mexico , a U.S...

, the first United States Minister to Mexico, who introduced the plant into the US
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 in 1825. It is also called the Atatürk flower in Turkey
Turkey
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

.

Description



Euphorbia pulcherrima is a shrub or small tree, typically reaching a height of 0.6 to 4 m (2 to 16 ft). The plant bears dark green dentate leaves that measure 7 to 16 cm (3 to 6 inches) in length. The colored bracts—which are most often flaming red but can be orange, pale green, cream, pink, white or marbled—are actually leaves; because the flowers are unassuming and do not attract pollinators, brightly coloured leaves developed (aka bracts). The colors come from photoperiodism
Photoperiodism
Photoperiodism is the physiological reaction of organisms to the length of day or night. It occurs in plants and animals.Photoperiodism can also be defined as the developmental responses of plants to the relative lengths of the light and dark periods...

, meaning that they require darkness for 12 hours at a time for at least 5 days in a row to change color. At the same time, the plants need a lot of light during the day for the brightest color.

Because of their groupings and colors, laymen often think the bracts are the flower petals of the plant. In fact, the flowers are grouped within the small yellow structures found in the center of each leaf bunch, and they are called cyathia
Cyathium
A cyathium is one of the specialised pseudanthia forming the inflorescence of plants in the genus Euphorbia . A cyathium consists of:...

.

The species is native to Mexico. It is found in the wild in deciduous tropical forest at moderate elevations from southern Sinaloa
Sinaloa
Sinaloa officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Sinaloa is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided in 18 municipalities and its capital city is Culiacán Rosales....

 down the entire Pacific coast of Mexico to Chiapas
Chiapas
Chiapas officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Chiapas is one of the 31 states that, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided in 118 municipalities and its capital city is Tuxtla Gutierrez. Other important cites in Chiapas include San Cristóbal de las...

 and Guatemala
Guatemala
Guatemala is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, Belize to the northeast, the Caribbean to the east, and Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast...

. It is also found in the interior in the hot, seasonally dry forests of Guerrero
Guerrero
Guerrero officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Guerrero is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided in 81 municipalities and its capital city is Chilpancingo....

, Oaxaca
Oaxaca
Oaxaca , , officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Oaxaca is one of the 31 states which, along with the Federal District, comprise the 32 federative entities of Mexico. It is divided into 571 municipalities; of which 418 are governed by the system of customs and traditions...

, and Chiapas. Reports of E. pulcherrima growing in the wild in Nicaragua
Nicaragua
Nicaragua is the largest country in the Central American American isthmus, bordered by Honduras to the north and Costa Rica to the south. The country is situated between 11 and 14 degrees north of the Equator in the Northern Hemisphere, which places it entirely within the tropics. The Pacific Ocean...

 and Costa Rica
Costa Rica
Costa Rica , officially the Republic of Costa Rica is a multilingual, multiethnic and multicultural country in Central America, bordered by Nicaragua to the north, Panama to the southeast, the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east....

 have yet to be confirmed by botanists.

There are over 100 cultivated varieties of poinsettia available.

Christmas tradition


In Nahuatl
Nahuatl
Nahuatl is thought to mean "a good, clear sound" This language name has several spellings, among them náhuatl , Naoatl, Nauatl, Nahuatl, Nawatl. In a back formation from the name of the language, the ethnic group of Nahuatl speakers are called Nahua...

, the language of the Aztecs, the plant is called Cuitlaxochitl (from cuitlatl, residue, and xochitl, flower) meaning "flower that grows in residues or soil." The Aztecs used the plant to produce red dye and as an antipyretic
Antipyretic
Antipyretics ; an-tee-pahy-ret-iks; from the Greek anti, against, and pyreticus, are drugs or herbs that reduce fever. Normally, they will not lower body temperature if one does not have a fever. Antipyretics cause the hypothalamus to override an interleukin-induced increase in temperature...

 medication. Today it is known in Mexico and Guatemala as "Noche Buena
Nochebuena
Nochebuena, , is a Spanish word referring to the night of Christmas Eve. In Spain, Cuba, Latin America, and the Philippines, the evening consists of a traditional dinner with family....

", meaning Christmas Eve. In Spain it is known as "Flor de Pascua", meaning "Easter flower". In both Chile and Peru, the plant became known as "Crown of the Andes".

The plant's association with Christmas began in 16th century Mexico, where legend tells of a young girl who was too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus
Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

' birthday. The tale goes that the child was inspired by an angel
Angel
Angels are mythical beings often depicted as messengers of God in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles along with the Quran. The English word angel is derived from the Greek ἄγγελος, a translation of in the Hebrew Bible ; a similar term, ملائكة , is used in the Qur'an...

 to gather weeds from the roadside and place them in front of the church altar. Crimson "blossoms" sprouted from the weeds and became beautiful poinsettias. From the 17th century, Franciscan friars in Mexico included the plants in their Christmas celebrations. The star-shaped leaf pattern is said to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem
Star of Bethlehem
In Christian tradition, the Star of Bethlehem, also called the Christmas Star, revealed the birth of Jesus to the magi, or "wise men", and later led them to Bethlehem. The star appears in the nativity story of the Gospel of Matthew, where magi "from the east" are inspired by the star to travel to...

, and the red color represents the blood
Blood
Blood is a specialized bodily fluid in animals that delivers necessary substances such as nutrients and oxygen to the cells and transports metabolic waste products away from those same cells....

 sacrifice
Sacrifice
Sacrifice is the offering of food, objects or the lives of animals or people to God or the gods as an act of propitiation or worship.While sacrifice often implies ritual killing, the term offering can be used for bloodless sacrifices of cereal food or artifacts...

 through the crucifixion of Jesus
Crucifixion of Jesus
The crucifixion of Jesus and his ensuing death is an event that occurred during the 1st century AD. Jesus, who Christians believe is the Son of God as well as the Messiah, was arrested, tried, and sentenced by Pontius Pilate to be scourged, and finally executed on a cross...

.

Poinsettias are popular Christmas decorations in homes, churches, offices, and elsewhere across North America. They are available in large numbers from grocery, drug, and hardware stores. In the United States, December 12 is National Poinsettia Day.

Big Spring, Texas
Big Spring, Texas
Big Spring is a city in and the county seat of Howard County, Texas, United States, at the crossroads of U.S. Highway 87 and Interstate 20. With a population of 25,233 at the 2000 census, it is the largest city between Midland to the west, Abilene to the east, Lubbock to the north, and San Angelo...

 is well known for its poinsettias as the "lighted poinsettia capital". When the Comanche Trail Festival of Lights first began the dam at the big spring held four huge poinsettias made of rebar welded together in the shape of a poinsettia flower. Each flower was made up of 5 leaves. The leaves were decorated with red Christmas lights. The four poinsettia flowers were an awesome sight to see entering Big Spring from the south. Each year more flowers were added to the dam and inside the park until Comanche Trail Park has by 2006 added seven poinsettias, making a total of eleven lighted flowers on the dam and countless flowers inside the park, making Comanche Trail Park the Christmas Poinsettia capital.

American poinsettia monopoly


Until the 1990s, the Ecke family of Encinitas, California
Encinitas, California
Encinitas is a coastal beach city in San Diego County, California. Located within Southern California, it is approximately north of San Diego in North County and about south of Los Angeles. As of the 2010 census, the city had a population of 59,518, up from 58,014 at the 2000 census. Encinitas is...

, had a virtual monopoly on poinsettias owing to a technological secret that made it difficult for others to compete. The Ecke family's key to producing more desirable poinsettias was to create a fuller, more compact plant, by grafting
Grafting
Grafting is a horticultural technique whereby tissues from one plant are inserted into those of another so that the two sets of vascular tissues may join together. This vascular joining is called inosculation...

 two varieties of poinsettia together. A poinsettia left to grow on its own will naturally take an open, somewhat weedy look. The Eckes' technique made it possible to get every seedling to branch, resulting in a bushier plant.

Albert Ecke had emigrated from Germany to Los Angeles
Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles , with a population at the 2010 United States Census of 3,792,621, is the most populous city in California, USA and the second most populous in the United States, after New York City. It has an area of , and is located in Southern California...

 in 1900, opening a dairy and orchard in the Eagle Rock
Eagle Rock, Los Angeles, California
In 1909, Hill Avenue, now Hill Drive, was one of Eagle Rock's most beautiful streets. Other streets were Royal Drive , Acacia Street , Kenilworth Avenue , Highland Avenue , and Fairmont Avenue...

 area. He became intrigued by the plant and sold them from street stands. His son, Paul Ecke, developed the grafting technique, but it was the third generation of Eckes, Paul Ecke, Jr., who was responsible for advancing the association between the plant and the winter holidays. Besides changing the market from mature plants shipped by rail to cuttings sent by air, he sent free plants to television stations for them to display on air from Thanksgiving to Christmas. He also appeared on television programs like The Tonight Show
The Tonight Show
The Tonight Show is an American late-night talk show that has aired on NBC since 1954. It is the longest currently running regularly scheduled entertainment program in the United States, and the third longest-running show on NBC, after Meet the Press and Today.The Tonight Show has been hosted by...

and Bob Hope
Bob Hope
Bob Hope, KBE, KCSG, KSS was a British-born American comedian and actor who appeared in vaudeville, on Broadway, and in radio, television and movies. He was also noted for his work with the US Armed Forces and his numerous USO shows entertaining American military personnel...

's Christmas specials to promote the plants.

However, in the 1990s, a university researcher discovered the method and published it, opening the door for competitors to flourish, particularly in Latin America
Latin America
Latin America is a region of the Americas where Romance languages  – particularly Spanish and Portuguese, and variably French – are primarily spoken. Latin America has an area of approximately 21,069,500 km² , almost 3.9% of the Earth's surface or 14.1% of its land surface area...

 where the cost of labor is far lower. The Ecke family, now led by Paul Ecke III, no longer grows any on farms in the U.S., but as of 2008, they still control about 70% of the domestic market and 50% of the worldwide market.

Cultivation


In areas outside its natural environment, it is commonly grown as an indoor plant where it prefers good morning sun, then shade in the hotter part of the day. However, it is widely grown and very popular in subtropical climates such as Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

, North of Sydney
Sydney
Sydney is the most populous city in Australia and the state capital of New South Wales. Sydney is located on Australia's south-east coast of the Tasman Sea. As of June 2010, the greater metropolitan area had an approximate population of 4.6 million people...

.

As this is a subtropical plant, it will likely perish if the night-time temperature falls below 10 °C (50 °F) so is not suitable for planting in the ground in cooler climates. Likewise, daytime temperatures in excess of 21 °C (70 °F) tend to shorten the lifespan of the plant.

The poinsettia has also been cultivated in Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

 since the 1860s. It was brought from Mexico
Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

 during the Egyptian campaign. It is called "Bent El Consul", "the consul's daughter", referring to the U.S. ambassador Joel Poinsett.

The poinsettia can be difficult to induce to reflower after the initial display when purchased. The plant requires a period of uninterrupted long, dark nights for around two months in autumn in order to develop flowers. Incidental light at night during this time will hamper flower production. When watering it is important to allow the plant to drain out any excess water. Having a poinsettia sit in water can do harm to the plant as it prefers moist soil to direct water.

In order to produce extra axillary buds that are necessary for plants containing multiple flowers, a phytoplasma
Phytoplasma
Phytoplasma are specialised bacteria that are obligate parasites of plant phloem tissue and transmitting insects . They were first discovered by scientists in 1967 and were named mycoplasma-like organisms or MLOs. They cannot be cultured in vitro in cell-free media...

 infection – whose symptoms include the proliferation
Cell growth
The term cell growth is used in the contexts of cell development and cell division . When used in the context of cell division, it refers to growth of cell populations, where one cell grows and divides to produce two "daughter cells"...

 of axillary buds – is used.

Rumoured toxicity


In the United States and perhaps elsewhere, there is a common misconception that the poinsettia is highly toxic. This misconception was spread by a 1919 urban legend
Urban legend
An urban legend, urban myth, urban tale, or contemporary legend, is a form of modern folklore consisting of stories that may or may not have been believed by their tellers to be true...

 of a two-year-old child dying after consuming a poinsettia leaf.

While the sap and latex of many plants of the spurge
Spurge
Euphorbia is a genus of plants belonging to the family Euphorbiaceae. Consisting of 2008 species, Euphorbia is one of the most diverse genera in the plant kingdom, exceeded possibly only by Senecio. Members of the family and genus are sometimes referred to as Spurges...

 genus are indeed toxic, the poinsettia's toxicity is relatively mild. Its latex can cause an allergic reaction in sensitive individuals. It is also mildly irritating to the skin or stomach and may sometimes cause diarrhea
Diarrhea
Diarrhea , also spelled diarrhoea, is the condition of having three or more loose or liquid bowel movements per day. It is a common cause of death in developing countries and the second most common cause of infant deaths worldwide. The loss of fluids through diarrhea can cause dehydration and...

 and vomiting
Vomiting
Vomiting is the forceful expulsion of the contents of one's stomach through the mouth and sometimes the nose...

 if eaten. Sap
Plant sap
Sap is a fluid transported in xylem cells or phloem sieve tube elements of a plant. It transports water and nutrients throughout the plant....

 introduced into the human eye may cause temporary blindness. An American Journal of Emergency Medicine
American Journal of Emergency Medicine
The American Journal of Emergency Medicine is a peer-reviewed medical journal, covering emergency medicine.- External links :*...

study of 22,793 cases reported to the American Association of Poison Control Centers showed no fatalities, and furthermore that a strong majority of poinsettia exposures are accidental, involve children, and usually do not result in any type of medical treatment. POISINDEX, a major source for poison control center
Poison control center
A poison control center is a medical facility that is able to provide immediate, free, and expert treatment advice and assistance over the telephone in case of exposure to poisonous or hazardous substances...

s, says it would take 500 bract
Bract
In botany, a bract is a modified or specialized leaf, especially one associated with a reproductive structure such as a flower, inflorescence axis, or cone scale. Bracts are often different from foliage leaves. They may be smaller, larger, or of a different color, shape, or texture...

s for a 50-pound child to eat an amount found to be toxic in experiments. An Ohio State University
Ohio State University
The Ohio State University, commonly referred to as Ohio State, is a public research university located in Columbus, Ohio. It was originally founded in 1870 as a land-grant university and is currently the third largest university campus in the United States...

study showed no problems even with extremely large doses.

External links