History and Facts of Poinsettia Plants – Euphorbia pulcherrimaEuphorbia pulcherrima, the botanical name, or poinsettia as ...
At the same time the Spanish Franciscan Friars, who settled in the Taxcoregion of southern Mexico, included the timely win...
History of the Poinsettia Arrival in the Unites States and its NameThe poinsettia was introduced to the United States by M...
In 1923 the family moved their business to Encinitas, about 2 hours south of thevery fast developing area around Los Angel...
Today Dr. Ruth Kobayashi continues to produce new poinsettia hybrids for theEcke family. Dr. Kobayashi’s work resulted in ...
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History and Facts of Poinsettia Plants, Euphorbia pulcherrima

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Euphorbia pulcherrima, the botanical name, or poinsettia as we call it is native to Mexico and Guatemala in Central America. Poinsettias are fascinating winter blooming small shrubs or trees which can grow anywhere from about two to sixteen feet tall. People not familiar with poinsettia plants believe that the colored bracts are the actual flowers. But the flowers, called cyathia, are located at the center of each leaf bunch. The history of poinsettia plants dates back to the Aztecs.

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History and Facts of Poinsettia Plants, Euphorbia pulcherrima

  1. 1. History and Facts of Poinsettia Plants – Euphorbia pulcherrimaEuphorbia pulcherrima, the botanical name, or poinsettia as we call it isnative to Mexico and Guatemala in Central America. Poinsettias are part of theEuphorbiaceae family. Many plants in this family ooze a milky sap. Thebotanical name, Euphorbia pulcherrima, was given to the poinsettia by Germanbotanist, Karl Ludwig Wilenow. The plant grew through a crack in hisgreenhouse. Dazzled by its color, he gave it the botanical name Euphorbiapulcherrima, meaning “very beautiful”. The History of the Poinsettia in its native HabitatThe Aztecs in the fourteenth through sixteenth centuries called this plant“Cuetlaxochitl” in their native Nahuatl language. Cuitllatl means “residue” andxochiti means flower, thus it is “the flower that grows in the residues or soil”.Montezuma, the last of the Aztec kings, had poinsettia plants brought up towhat is present day Mexico City by caravans. The Aztecs saw the plant as asymbol of purity and used it as a dye and against fevers.Seventeenth century Spanish botanist Don Juan Balme mentions poinsettiaplants in his writings. He found the plant flourishing on the slopes and in thevalleys near Cuernavaca. He described the plant as having large green leavesand a small flower surrounded by brilliant red bracts, almost as if for protection.
  2. 2. At the same time the Spanish Franciscan Friars, who settled in the Taxcoregion of southern Mexico, included the timely winter grown red blooms of theplants in their Fiesta de Pesebre, the Nativity procession. The star-shaped leafpattern is said to symbolize the Star of Bethlehem and was named “NocheBuena” meaning Christmas Eve. The name “poinsettia” is derived from JoelRoberts Poinsett who was the first United States Minister to Mexico from 1825to 1829. Mr. Poinsett first brought poinsettia plants to America.Poinsettias are fascinating winter blooming small shrubs or trees which cangrow anywhere from about two to sixteen feet tall. Dark green leaves which areabout three to six inches in length add to the festive appearance of this plant.The colored bracts of poinsettia plants are actually leaves. Colors of the bractscan be red, pink, orange, white, or marbled. These colored bracts are caused byphotoperiodism. Many flowering plants use a photoreceptor protein, such asphytochrome or cryptochrome, to sense changes between daylight and thedarkness of night or photoperiod, which they take as signals to flower.People not familiar with poinsettia plants believe that the colored bracts are theactual flowers. But the flowers, called cyathia, are located at the center of eachleaf bunch.Poinsettia plants are considered toxic by many. But this is not the case. Theymay cause mild skin irritations to some individuals who are sensitive to it. If anypart of the plant is ingested, it may cause an upset stomach, diarrhea andvomiting. In addition, the sap that exudes from a broken branch may causetemporary blindness if it comes in contact with the eyes.
  3. 3. History of the Poinsettia Arrival in the Unites States and its NameThe poinsettia was introduced to the United States by Mr. Poinsett in 1828. Hehad sent and brought cuttings from Mexico to his greenhouses in Greenville,South Carolina. He shared these cuttings with friends and other horticulturalistshe knew at the time.Euphorbia pulcherrima, the name originally given by German botanist KarlLudwig Wilenow was changed to “Poinsettia” in honor of Mr. Poinsett in 1836 byWilliam Prescott, the historian and horticulturalist, who was asked to renamethe plant. In his newly published historical work at the time on Mexico, Conquestof Mexico, Mr. Prescott details Mr. Poinsett’s discovery of this beautiful plant inthe area of Taxco del Alarcon in southern Mexico.During the 1920s Albert Ecke and his son Paul became interested in poinsettiaplants which grew wild in southern California at this time. As these plantsbloomed during the Holiday season both Albert and Paul thought that this wouldbe a perfect plant to introduce to the public. Paul continued to foster the idea ofmaking the poinsettia the official holiday flower for Christmas. They grewfields of poinsettia plants and began to sell them commercially. The plants wereinitially sold at roadside stands in the Hollywood and Beverly Hills area.
  4. 4. In 1923 the family moved their business to Encinitas, about 2 hours south of thevery fast developing area around Los Angeles. Encinitas proved to be theperfect location for growing poinsettias as it mirrored the growing conditions ofits native Mexico where these plants grow wild.From 1923 to the mid-1960s they grew fields of poinsettia mother plants, andshipped them to plant nurseries around the country that purchased them forcultivation and future commercial sales. Paul personally traveled the countrypromoting the plant to nurseries nationwide and encouraged nursery owners tomarket the plant as a holiday flower.But this changed in 1963 when the first commercial-quality poinsettia cultivarwas developed. It grew best as a potted plant and was introduced to the public.This dramatically changed the nature of commercially growing and sellingpoinsettia plants. Even for the Ecke Family Business, they moved indoors fromthe fields to growing these smaller plants in greenhouses. They began shippingby air freight rather than by rail.Paul Jr. with his marketing ideas to always keep the poinsettia plant in the publiceye used the very popular growing medium of television to promote these brightred and later red and white potted flowering plants. They became a part of thescenery in most every popular TV show and all the Christmas Specials duringthe holiday season. No holiday scene would be complete without at least oneblooming poinsettia plant.
  5. 5. Today Dr. Ruth Kobayashi continues to produce new poinsettia hybrids for theEcke family. Dr. Kobayashi’s work resulted in the knowledge of the mostimportant poinsettia genetics known today. In 2002 ‘Prestige Red’ wasintroduced known for its outstanding branching capabilities and very sturdystems. ‘Prestige Red’ quickly became the number one selling red poinsettia.Presently experiments continue to breed other species with the Euphorbiagenus. Currently there are more than 100 varieties of poinsettias available.Here are some of the cultivar names exhibiting some of the most spectacularpoinsettia colors available today: Cortez Red, Cranberry Punch, Flirt, GalaxyRed, Marblestar, Nutcracker Pink, Monet, Plum Pudding, Silverstar White,Sonora Fire, Victory Red, White Christmas, Spotlight Apricot, and Pearl.In addition many commercial growers have cultivated new plants which havelonger lasting bract colors and lasting foliage that can survive poor wateringschedules. Poinsettia growers have characteristically made today’s plants bruiseresistant and more flexible with less fragile bracts that can survive shippingwithout dropping their leaves that allows them to arrive beautifully intact to thestores and nurseries for retail sales.Copyright © Bob Walshwww.howtogrowplumeriafrangipani.com

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