Sunday, November 25, 2012

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Enduring Red poinsettias

Enduring™ Red Poinsettia

No flower says Christmas to me more than the poinsettia. It's as much a part of the holiday as Christmas trees and wreaths.

I still remember going to church as a young child and being amazed at the sea of bright red poinsettias at the front of the church. There's also the legend of the poinsettia -- how a poor child, having nothing else to offer, gathered a bouquet of weeds to lay at a Nativity scene on Christmas Eve only to see them burst into bright red blooms.

John Roberts Poinsett

It's hard to believe that they were first introduced in the U.S. more than 180 years ago after Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, sent some back to his greenhouse in South Carolina.

He had many other accomplishments in his life -- Congressman, Secretary of War under President Van Buren, organizer of the first National Gallery of Art and founder of what later became the Smithsonian Institution. This amateur botanist, though, will mostly be remembered for a colorful Mexican plant.

The botanical name is Euphorbia pulcherrima, which literally means "the most beautiful Euphorbia." You'll find lots of this plant variety for sale at your local nursery each spring although they are annuals -- not perennials -- in the Chicago area.

Carousel Dark Red poinsettias

Carousel ™ Dark Red Poinsettias

What most people think of as flower petals actually aren't. They're technically bracts or modified leaves. The "flowers" are the small yellow structures at the center. And, contrary to popular opinion, the plant is not poisonous.

Poinsettias that grow in the wild are much different than what you'll find in the U.S. today. They're shrubs that are much more open and even scraggly at times. (For some pictures, click here.)

Modern varieties have been specifically developed to have a high number of blooms per stem. For years, most of these were bred and grown in California by the Paul Ecke family. That, however, has changed in recent years as production moved to Guatemala and other growers figured out ways to make the plants fuller. In August, the Ecke family announced it was becoming part of Dutch-based Agribio Group.

Visions of Grandeur poinsettia

Visions of Grandeur™ Poinsettia

Although one can supposedly get a poinsettia to bloom the following year, I've never been able to do it. It needs to be cut back, put in the dark and then brought out and put into bright sunlight, something I really don't have at my house.

If you'd like to give it a try, check out this fact sheet from Ohio State University. 

There also are two events in the Chicago area, both with free admission, if you'd like to see lots of poinsettias all at once.

The annual holiday show at the Garfield Park Conservatory opened Saturday and continues through January 6. All of the photos in this post were taken there. While repairs from last year's devatating hailstorm are still underway, the flowers in Horticulture Hall are quite lovely.

Cantigny Gardens in Wheaton also will have an open house on Tuesday, Nov. 27 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. featuring 3,000 poinsettias in its greenhouses.

Just the idea of raising that many plants at once is enough to give me a headache! I think I'll stick with buying one plant as I usually do each Christmas. I'm obviously not alone as poinsettias are the best-selling potted plant in the U.S. and Canada.

Here's hoping one of the many varieties available will brighten your home this holiday season.

(For more information from the University of Illinois Extension about poinsettias, click here.)

DaVinci poinsettias Garfield Park Conservatory
Da Vinci™ Poinsettias at the Garfield Park Conservatory

Pink Cadillac pointsettias
Pink Cadillac Poinsettias

Snowcap pointsettias
Snowcap Poinsettias

Sparkling Punch poinsettias

Sparkling Punch™ Poinsettias

By Karen Geisler


  1. We do buy poinsettias every year but really prefer the traditional deep red leaves.

    1. I totally agree. I have to admit, though, that Visions of Grandeur would be very, very nice in the right color room.

  2. I'm a fan of the white ones and the slightly pink ones, like Visions of Grandeur. They're all beautiful, of course, and it's always wonderful to see them in a public display as you show here.

  3. Karen I love these flowers too. I look for the traditional red, white and then one of the more unusual...I had no idea the history of this plant in the US...John Roberts Poinsett was an amazing person having organized the National Gallery (one of my fav spots in DC) and founded the Smithsonian (another fav spot) and then bringing back this wonderful flower.

  4. our current posts both share splendid flowers from Mexico!