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Poinsettias the Christmas Plants

Did you know that sales of poinsettias in the USA exceed the total of all other potted plants put together? This year, well over 50 million poinsettias will be sold, many of them as indoor plants to add color at Christmas time. Here in Florida, we are lucky to be able to plant them outside, and enjoy the beauty of their vibrant red, pink, or white, and green displays. They are sometimes also available in shades of cream, yellow, or peach, and some with variegated bracts that are striped, marbled, or spotted with contrasting colors.

The poinsettia, Euphorbia pulcherrima, is a native plant in Mexico where it originated in a small region near Taxco. There it grows as a shrub up to ten feet tall. They have been seen up to five feet tall in Florida, where they bloom outdoors in December right on cue. The Aztecs called E. pulcherrima "cuetlaxochitle," which is an even bigger mouthful to pronounce. Because of its bright red color, cuetlaxochitle was a symbol of purity to the Indians. It was used to make a reddish-purple dye out of the bracts and a medicine for fever from the plant's latex.

Since the Indians used it for medicine, it surprises me that many people still believe the poinsettia to be toxic. This is absolutely untrue! That old wive's tale has been proven untrue by university and floral industry studies. The anti-poinsettia warnings originated in Hawaii in 1919, when a doctor attributed incorrectly, authorities now say the death of a 2-year-old child to eating a poinsettia leaf. According to the POISINDEX database, extrapolations from experiments on animals indicate that a 50-pound child could eat 500 or so poinsettia leaves with no ill effects. In 1995, a study of data from poison control centers found no toxic reactions out of almost 23,000 reported exposures.


 

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DJ Overbeck

 

Florida Environmental Care
Quality Integrated Landscape Maintenance Services
PO Box 15026, Clearwater, Florida 33766
Telephone: (727) 446-6292 Facsimile: (727) 443-2690

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