The Holiday Season is upon us, full of traditions and rich in history, including our plant of the week, “Flores de Noche Buena”, or commonly known as the Poinsettia. This large growing perennial flowering shrub is native to Mexico, and may have remained a regional plant, had it not been for the efforts of Joel Roberts Poinsett, who was the first United States Ambassador to Mexico.
While in Mexico, Poinsett, who was also a botanist, became enchanted by the brilliant red leafed plants he saw during the short days of winter, and sent some back to his home in South Carolina, where he began propagating the plants and sending them to his friends. One thing led to another, and well, thanks to nurseryman Robert Buist, who began selling them right around the holiday season, the Poinsettia became a holiday tradition. And, by an Act of Congress, December 12 was set aside as National Poinsettia Day!
Through the years, plant breeders have taken the traditional red poinsettia, and have developed many different colors to chose, including so many different shades of pinks and reds, marbled, spotted, plum, white, which by the way, through all the plant breeding, there are still no perfect white poinsettias (they’re actually an off white or cream color) but getting very close.
Poinsettias are a day light sensitive plant, meaning that as the days get shorter, their foliage reacts by turning colors. These are called bracts. The actual flower of the poinsettia is in the center of the colorful bracts.
So, what about the folklore that says Poinsettias are deathly poisonous to humans? It’s simply not true, according to research done at The Ohio State University. Yes, the milky sap could cause minor skin irritation, and a very high consumption of these bitter tasting leaves could cause sore throats, and upset stomachs, but that’s it. And again, they are very bitter in taste, and it would take a lot of leaf eating to cause any ‘minor’ problems.
As for their toxicity to cats and dogs, the ASPCA has the following to say:
Toxicity: Toxic to Dogs, Toxic to Cats Toxic
Principles: Irritant Sap (latex)
Clinical Signs: Irritating to the mouth and stomach, sometimes causing vomiting, but generally over-rated in toxicity. If your pet ingested this plant, contact your local veterinarian.