AskDefine | Define poinsettia

Dictionary Definition

poinsettia n : tropical American plant having poisonous milk and showy tapering usually scarlet petallike leaves surrounding small yellow flowers [syn: Christmas star, Christmas flower, lobster plant, Mexican flameleaf, painted leaf, Euphorbia pulcherrima]

User Contributed Dictionary



poinsettia (plural poinsettias)
  1. A plant, Euphorbia pulcherrima, with rather small and insignificant flowers but large brightly coloured leaves.


Extensive Definition

''"Christmas Star" redirects here. For the Christian tradition, see Star of Bethlehem.
Euphorbia pulcherrima, commonly named poinsettia, is a species of flowering plant indigenous to Mexico, and native to the Pacific coast of the United States. The shrub occurs in some parts of central and southern Mexico, and a few localities in Guatemala. The name "poinsettia" is after Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Ambassador to Mexico, who introduced the plant into the US in 1825. The alternative names for the poinsettia are: Mexican flame leaf, Christmas star, Winter rose, Noche Buena, Lalupatae, Atatürk çiçeği ("Flower of Atatürk", in Turkey), Αλεξανδρινό (Alexandrian, in Greece), Pascua and Stelle di Natale (in Italy).


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 top leaves, known as bracts, are flaming red, pink, or white and are often mistaken as flowers. The actual flowers are grouped within the small yellow structures found in the center of each leaf bunch, which are called cyathia.
The species is found in the wild in deciduous tropical forest at moderate elevations from southern Sinaloa down the entire Pacific coast of Mexico to Chiapas and into Guatemala. It is also found in the interior in the hot, seasonally dry forests of Guerrero, Oaxaca, and Chiapas.
Cultivars have been produced with orange, pale green, cream and marbled leaves.
There are 109 varieties of poinsettia available. 74% of Americans prefer red poinsettias, 8% prefer white, and 6% prefer pink..

History of the poinsettia and the Christmas tradition

In Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, the plant is called Cuitlaxochitl meaning "star flower." The Aztecs used the plant to produce red dye and as an antipyretic medication. In both Chile and Peru, the plant became known as "Crown of the Andes".
The plants' association with Christmas originated in 16th century Mexico, where legend tells of a young girl who was too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus' birthday. The tale goes that the child was inspired by an angel 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 monks in Mexico included the plants in their Christmas celebrations.
In the United States, December 12th is National Poinsettia Day.

American poinsettia monopoly

Until 19 years ago, the Paul Ecke Family of Encinitas, California, had a virtual monopoly on poinsettias owing to a technological secret that made it difficult for others to compete. The key to producing more desirable poinsettias is to create a fuller, more compact plant. A poinsettia left to grow on its own will naturally take an open, somewhat weedy look. The Eckes' technique, which involved grafting two varieties of poinsettia together, made it possible to get every seedling to branch, resulting in a bushier plant. However, in the 1990s, a university researcher discovered the method and published it; now the technique is widespread.


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 Sydney, Australia.
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 is also cultivated in Egypt since 1860s, it was brought from Mexico during Egyptian campaign around 1860s. It is called "Bent El Consul", "the consul's daughter", referring to U.S. ambassador Mr. 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 infection – whose symptoms include the proliferation of axillary buds – is used.


Rumoured toxicity

In the United States and perhaps elsewhere, there is a common misconception that poinsettias are toxic. The origin of this could be found in the fact that most plants of the spurge genus are indeed toxic and also because the name of the plant seems to refer to the word poison. This misconception was spread by a 1919 urban legend of a two-year-old child dying after consuming a poinsettia leaf. While it is true that the plant is not very toxic, those sensitive to latex may suffer an allergic reaction and it is therefore not advisable to bring the plants into the home of sensitive individuals.
In a study in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine 22,793 cases of poinsettia exposures were electronically analyzed. 98.9% of the exposures were accidental with 93.9% involving children. 96.1% of the exposed patients were not treated in a health care facility and 92.4% did not require any type of therapy. If eaten, poinsettias may sometimes cause diarrhea and vomiting in animals and humans.




poinsettia in Czech: Pryšec nádherný
poinsettia in Danish: Julestjerne
poinsettia in German: Weihnachtsstern (Pflanze)
poinsettia in Modern Greek (1453-): Αλεξανδρινό
poinsettia in Spanish: Euphorbia pulcherrima
poinsettia in French: Poinsettia
poinsettia in Croatian: Božićna zvijezda
poinsettia in Indonesian: Kastuba
poinsettia in Italian: Euphorbia pulcherrima
poinsettia in Kannada: ಪೊಯನ್ ಸೆಟಿಯಾ
poinsettia in Dutch: Kerstster (plant)
poinsettia in Japanese: ポインセチア
poinsettia in Norwegian: Julestjerne
poinsettia in Polish: Wilczomlecz nadobny
poinsettia in Portuguese: Poinsétia
poinsettia in Albanian: Euphorbia pulcherrima
poinsettia in Finnish: Joulutähti
poinsettia in Swedish: Julstjärna (krukväxt)
poinsettia in Tagalog: Paskwa (bulaklak)
poinsettia in Vietnamese: Trạng nguyên (cây)
poinsettia in Tonga (Tonga Islands): Laveʻimoa
poinsettia in Turkish: Atatürk çiçeği
poinsettia in Chinese: 一品紅
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