December 12, 2010

National Poinsettia Day – U.S.

On this day, take a quick quiz to see how much you know about poinsettias:

  1. What color are poinsettia flowers?
  1. What was the name of the person who introduced this plant to the U.S.?
  1. Of which country is this plant a native?
  1. How are poinsettias used?
  1. Why is December 12 National Poinsettia Day?
  1. Are poinsettias poisonous?
  1. How many pots of poinsettias are sold each year?


  1. Yellow. Poinsettia flowers are the tiny yellow clusters found in the center of the red, white, or pink leaves that most people think are the flowers of the plant. These colored leaves are called bracts. The bracts achieve their holiday colors during the winter because, like leaves changing color in the fall, the color change is a response to changing day length. The bracts require several months of at least 12 hours of darkness at a time to change color. Lots of bright sun during the short days helps them to achieve bright colors.
  1. Joel Roberts Poinsett is credited with bringing this plant to the United States. (I guess you know where we get the name for this plant!) He was the son of a doctor and had attended medical school himself, but his main scientific interest was botany, and he kept a hothouse for growing exotic plants. He had been appointed the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico by President Madison, and it was on one of his many trips to Mexico that he discovered the plant that now bears his name.
  1. Poinsettias are native to Mexico, where they are called Noche Buena (“Good Night,” which is a term for Christmas Eve).
  1. Ancient Aztecs used the bracts of poinsettias for dye in cosmetics and textiles, and they used the plant's milky white sap to make a medicine to treat fevers. The Aztecs called the plant cuetlaxochitl. Gee, I just don't get why we didn't use THAT name!
  1. Joel Roberts Poinsett died on December 12, 1851. Since the plant blooms during the winter and is associated with the Christmas holiday, Poinsett's death day was an appropriate day to honor the man and the flower.
  1. No. Most plants in the poinsettia's genus are toxic, but poinsettias are only mildly irritating to skin or stomach. Eating them could give you a tummy ache or even cause vomiting, but it wouldn't kill you. The urban legend that the plants are highly toxic probably started in 1919 when people said that a two-year-old child's death was caused by eating a leaf. Experiments have shown that a child would have to eat at least 500 leaves or bracts to die!
  1. Poinsettias are the largest flowering plant crop in the U.S., with sales of over 63 million pots per year. And that doesn't even count all the silk and plastic fake poinsettias seen at this time of the year!

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