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Poinsettias - Fact and Fiction

Surrounding the Christmas Flower
by Press Release
December 14, 2008

Poinsettias. What makes them so popular? Between 60 and 80 million are sold in the U.S. annually -- all in a matter of weeks. Their myriad of colors, sizes, shapes and uses have made them America's favorite Christmas flowers. Where do they come from? Are they really poisonous? Find out about these festive flowers and the legends behind them from the poinsettia experts at Phillip's 1-800-FLORALS, where more than 10,000 beautiful poinsettias will be purchased this month.

Poinsettias are native to Mexico, where they grow wild, and were first introduced to the United States in 1825 by Joel Robert Poinsett, amateur botanist and first ambassador to Mexico. Poinsett brought some cuttings to his plantation in Greenwood, South Carolina. The rest is history. Today, National Poinsettia Day, Dec. 12, commemorates Poinsett and the plant he made famous on the anniversary of his death in 1851.

The legend of the poinsettia dates back to a Christmas Eve centuries ago, when a little girl named Pepita had no gift to present to the Christ child. On her way to the church she gathered up weeds along the road. Then, a miracle unfolded. As she approached the alter, the weeds bloomed into vibrant flowers -- Flores de Noche Buena or Flowers of the Holy Night.

The Aztecs called the poinsettia Cuetlaxochitl. They made a reddish purple dye from the bracts. In Chile and Peru, the poinsettia is known as the Crown of the Andes. Poinsettias have also been referred to as the Flame Leaf Flower. In nature, they're a perennial flowering shrub that can grow up to ten feet in height.

Today, poinsettias range in color from white to pink to traditional red, with shades of peach and yellow in between, with more than 100 varieties available. Newer varieties boast marbled, flecked, and even wrinkled bracts (the colored portion of the plant). They're grown in all fifty states, from tiny plantings, the vast majority of which originate from the Paul Ecke Ranch in California.

According to J.R. Phillip of Phillip's Flowers and 1-800-FLORALS in Chicago, "Many mistakenly believe poinsettias are poisonous, but it's simply an urban legnd." Researchers at Ohio State University have proved the poinsettia to be non-toxic to both humans and pets. In fact, out of 22,793 reported poinsettia exposures studied by Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, there was no toxicity significance found. Even pet lovers need not ban the poinsettia from their homes. Keeping the plant out of reach of pets is a good idea, however, to avoid stomach upset from the fibrous tissues, especially among feline friends. Like most decorative blooming plants, "the poinsettia is not meant to be eaten," said Phillip, "and can certainly cause discomfort if ingested."

Poinsettias range in price from under $10 to over $100, based on size, variety, shape, quality, and decorative trim. When selecting poinsettias, look for plants with thoroughly colored and expanded bracts, plentiful green foliage, strong stems, and no signs of wilting. Care and handling is easy. Poinsettias like indirect sunlight, room temperatures, and light to moderate soil moisture. Over watering and excessive temperatures are the most common causes of any problems. "The best advice," noted Phillip, "is simply to avoid cold drafts, excessive heat, or soggy soil."

With a little care, poinsettias last through Christmas and beyond, making them a terrific value, as well as a popular gift and favorite holiday decoration. Some of Phillip's customers literally buy them by the hundreds for business gifts, and the colorful plants are always the number one selling item on the company's web site each December Phillip's also plants and cares for poinsettias in numerous commercial buildings throughout the greater Chicago area, where it was founded in 1923. "Poinsettias are probably the most popular plant ever," says Phillip, "and with new varieties and colors introduced annually, they're really getting better all the time."

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