Poinsettias, and a Merry Christmas

Poinsettias, Rockefeller Greenhouse, Cleveland, Ohio

In modern times, the poinsettia, Euphorbia pulcherrima, has become one of the most enduring symbols of the Christmas holiday season. The striking red and green leaves of this iconic shrub are a common sight in store windows, botanical conservatories, and indoor Yuletide displays throughout North America.

Although the poinsettia is seen everywhere in the United States at Christmas, this conspicuous member of the spurge family is native to southwest Mexico and Central America, where it is known as Flor de Nochebuena, literally the “Christmas Eve flower.” The plant caught the attention of Joel Rogers Poinsett, the first United States Ambassador to Mexico, during a visit in the 1820s to the mining town of Taxco,   where vivid displays of colorful foliage filled the streets. Poinsett, an amateur botanist, sent samples of the plant to his home in South Carolina, and by 1836 everyone was calling the plant “poinsettia.”    

Poinsettia tree in Corbin Conservatory, Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, Akron, Ohio

The true flowers of the poinsettia are small and inconspicuous, and the large “petals” are modified leaves called bracts, as shown in the close-up photo below. In addition to bright red, poinsettia leaves may be white, yellow, pink, or variegated in color.

Poinsettia flowers and bracts, Cleveland Botanical Garden

The poinsettia is the world’s most popular potted plant. Each year, more than 70 million poinsettias are sold during a six-week period, and most of them are grown in Guatemala, which produces 60 million poinsettias annually, about 80% of the world’s production.   

Poinsettia Display, Rockefeller Greenhouse, Cleveland, Ohio

If you enjoy poinsettia displays, two great places to find them in northeast Ohio during the Christmas holiday season are the Corbin Conservatory at Stan Hywet Hall and Gardens in Akron, and the Rockefeller Greenhouse on E. 88th Street in Cleveland, just south of Interstate I-90 near Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. The poinsettia photos in this article were taken using iPhone 6 and iPhone 13 Pro models. 

Wherever your travels take you, we hope you enjoy a very Merry Christmas and have a great year in 2024.

Ian Adams, Spicer and Maddie.  



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