What are Poinsettias?

A Kaminsky
A Kaminsky

It's the most popular Christmas plant: the poinsettia. Churches and homes are filled with these colorful plants during December, but what are they?

Poinsettias are native to Mexico.
Poinsettias are native to Mexico.

Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) as we see them today are somewhat different from the plant that is native to Mexico. Joel R. Poinsett, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, saw the plant and introduced it to the United States. Horticulturist William Prescott named the plant in Poinsett's honor. The Ecke family of California started producing this plant in their greenhouse and bred it into the showy Christmas plant we all know.

A poinsettia is a popular Christmas flower.
A poinsettia is a popular Christmas flower.

Poinsettias may have red, white or pink bracts. The colorful bracts are not flowers, but modified leaves. The flowers are in the center of the bracts. However, it is for the bracts that people buy poinsettias. The red color varies from a deep, velvety burgundy to a lighter scarlet. The pink varieties may be anywhere from carnation pink to fuchsia, while white poinsettias are usually more of a rich cream, often with a green or pink tinge.

For beautiful poinsettias that will last the entire Christmas season, a person should look for a plant that has deep green foliage, and is full and attractive from every side. The bracts should be fully colored, with no green at the edges. Plants should be perky, not wilting or droopy, with no yellowed or fallen leaves. To keep the colored bracts beautiful for a while, the owner should place the plant in a sunny window, but should not allow the leaves or bracts to touch the cold windowpane. The ideal daytime temperatures for poinsettias range from 60 to 70°F (16-21°C), without keeping the plant too warm or too cold.

Poinsettias can be kept long after Christmas, but they may or may not flower again. Special care is required for the plant to re-flower. Flowers begin to form in the fall when long nights are common, so a person may need to keep the plant in total darkness from about 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. the next morning. Reflowering instructions are available online. The colorful poinsettia is always a welcome addition to any Christmas décor, and with proper care, can continue to please the eye long after Christmas ends.

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Discussion Comments


I will have to say that I have always loved poinsettias, but I learned the hard way that they can be dangerous, too.

Did you now that a poinsettia is poisonous? I didn’t either, until a toddling nephew ate about half of a plant last year at our Christmas dinner.

We were at first not too terribly concerned. We are a large family with lots of children; and everyone knows that toddlers eat everything. But when he really started to appear green around the gills, and not just a little, we went into action.

We were advised to induce vomiting and then to feed the child as much milk as he could stand. After we did these things, he was fine. But I’ll be honest with you; had it been my child, they would have been in the emergency room. That’s what I would advise anyone in this situation to do, too.

Well, that and to put your poinsettias high enough that little hands (and mouths) can't reach them.


Poinsettias are definitely one of my favorite Christmas decorations. For one, my favorite color is red, but I also find that the plants just add a decorative quality to the whole atmosphere that is Christmas.

Each year, I buy live poinsettias, but I also keep some really nice silk ones that I use on my tree. They are especially packed away with protective coverings in special boxes.

We buy a huge ten foot Christmas tree every year that goes in the center of our living room. I use all clear lights and red and gold ribbon spiraling down from the top. But all along the entire girth of the tree are these silk poinsettias. They are mixed with white porcelain, glass, red and gold ornaments.

Around the top I create a sort of wreath, and my angel with the red velvet gown, sits atop a mixture of red and white poinsettias. It is really quite beautiful! Especially with the live poinsettia plants that we mix in around the bottom with the gifts.

I wish I could share a poinsettias picture with you of how we do Christmas!


I had assumed that all poinsettias were native to Mexico. So, I wondered why mine did not survive when I planted it outside in early summer. Now I know!


This explains why the poinsettia plant I transplanted into the ground in December did not live. The temperature was in the 40's most of the month, and it died within days.


@Suntan12 - I think that some people have a green thumb and other don’t. I buy a bunch of these plants around the holidays because it adds so much festive color to my home that nothing else will do it. Luckily poinsettia plants are relatively inexpensive so if one dies, they are easy to replace. My poinsettia plants usually last a while though. I just water them a few times a week and that is all I do.


@SarahGrove- Don’t feel too bad. The same thing happens to me every year. I think that I am better off buying artificial poinsettias because at least these are not alive. The only thing is that the red poinsettia plant is so beautiful and they have such rich colors that I want to buy the real plants.

It is just like the Christmas trees. I used to buy the real Frasier Fur Christmas trees and it really put me into the spirit. I loved the smell of pine all over my house, but I later found out that my daughter was allergic to the chemicals that they spray the trees with so I have to use a fake Christmas tree instead.

So I don’t know if I am going to make this compromise again. I will just have to take better care of the poinsettia plants.


@SarahGove – Poinsettia plants are not the easiest plants to keep alive, they do require some attention. If you want to be sure it stays happy just for the holidays it isn’t quite as difficult.

Be sure to check the soil daily. Poinsettias like to have moist but not wet soil. So when the soil feels dry give it some water but be sure you have it in a place where it can drain freely.

They should always be planted in fast draining soil and they like to be fertilized every two to three weeks.

If you want to keep the plant alive past the holidays you can find more extensive guides by searching the Internet.


I used to think that there were only red poinsettias, but a number of years ago I started seeing white and pink varieties. More recently I have seen them in variegated colors. They are so beautiful. I love seeing the new colors.


My husband always buys me Christmas poinsettias every year and every year I kill them.

What are the guidelines for watering poinsettias and other things I should know about caring for them?


Poinsettia used to be considered poisonous, however, that classification of poinsettia as a toxic plant has been removed.


would a Poinsettia have any affect on the taste of any fruit, say a Mandarin Orange, if placed beside it?

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    • Poinsettias are native to Mexico.
      Poinsettias are native to Mexico.
    • A poinsettia is a popular Christmas flower.
      A poinsettia is a popular Christmas flower.