Do not put poinsettia on your naughty list just yet. This Christmas favorite has an undeserved rap for being poisonous, said University of Missouri Extension horticulturist David Trinklein.
Poinsettia’s reputation took a hit following the 1919 death of a 2-year-old child in Hawaii, supposedly from consuming poinsettia leaves. Since poinsettia plants were in the area where the child died, poinsettia ingestion was incorrectly attributed as the cause of death. It was guilt by association, Trinklein said. After extensive testing in the 1970s, Ohio State University researchers cleared the poinsettia of wrongdoing.
“The toxicity myth is one of the great urban legends that seemingly will not go away,” he said. “In actuality, there is evidence to support the fact that the entire story of the child’s death was just hearsay.”
Poinsettia plants can, however, cause allergic reactions in some people. They secrete a latex-type sap and create irritations similar to poison ivy in people with sensitive skin.
But it is more likely that your children or pets will cause damage to your plant than the other way around, Trinklein said. Place poinsettias in an area where their dark green foliage and cherry red bracts can best be enjoyed.
Trinklein shared these fun facts about poinsettia:
Noted botanist and U.S. ambassador to Mexico Joel R. Poinsett brought the plant, later named in his honor, to South Carolina. He had seen the plant used by Franciscan priests in Nativity processions. He also saw it growing on Mexican hillsides.
Poinsettia is America’s top-selling potted plant. The plant sells in a six-week window between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Poinsettia gained popularity first as a cut flower. Its production began in California in 1923.
Poinsettia is available for sale in many colors.
Poinsettia’s bright colors come from specialized leaves called bracts. The actual flowers, the cyathia, are small, somewhat inconspicuous structures in the center of the bract cluster.
Poinsettias need about 13 hours of uninterrupted darkness each day to flower.
Poinsettias suffer when overwatered. Water only when the surface of the growing medium is dry to the touch.
More information about poinsettia care is available in the MU Extension guide “Care of Flowering Potted Plants” (G6511) at extension.missouri.edu/p/G6511.
Photo Credit: Rachel Pennington