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Euphorbia pulcherrima hybrid

Euphorbia pulcherrima hybrid
Euphorbia pulcherrima hybrid

Today's photographs are courtesy of Ana Margarida Silva of Portugal, who sent them along as a season's greeting to everyone who contributes to Botany Photo of the Day, including readers, commenters, photographers and writers. Claire wrote today's entry:

For a holiday theme, today's post will be about the well-known Euphorbia pulcherrima of the spurge family, Euphorbiaceae. The poinsettia! Called Cuetlaxochitl by the Aztecs, the poinsettia is a native to Mexico and Central America and has been used by humans for centuries before 16th century legend linked the species to Christmas. The Aztecs used Euphorbia pulcherrima as a red dye (from the floral bracts) and also medicinally for reducing fever (antipyretic, much like aspirin). The true inflorescence--a cyathium--is small and grows in the centre of the richly-coloured bracts.

Euphorbia pulcherrima has a long history as a Christmas flower before it was brought to North America in the 19th century by Joel Roberts Poinsett, the Mexican ambassador for the United States. In Mexico, the flowers of the species are sometimes called Flores de Noche Buena (Flowers of the Holy Night -- Christmas Eve). The legend behind this name and its symbolism stems from a story about Pepita, a young Mexican girl, who had nothing to offer as a gift for the birthday of Jesus. Pepita was told by an angel to bring roadside weeds to the church, and as she lay her humble gift on the altar, the weeds miraculously bloomed large red flowers.

The poinsettia is a very popular plant commercially during the holidays (almost all are sold within the six weeks before December 25). A near-monopoly on commercial production existed until the early 1990s in the USA due to a production secret. Euphorbia pulcherrima requires a strict light schedule and temperature regime to produce the vividly coloured bracts, but this wasn't a secret in comparison to how to produce consistent, compact flowering plants. The grafting technique to do this is no longer secret, though, and production has now shifted to parts of the world where labour is less expensive.

If you are worried about poisoning, the tales of toxicity are untrue. Euphorbia pulcherrrima is a mild irritant to the skin and stomach. Copious amounts of leaves ingested would only produce minimal symptoms and discomfort.

Wikipedia has more information on cultivation and images of the many varieties of poinsettia which can come in nearly any color in the wild (except blue or purple) and are cultivated in white, red and pink (though red, unsurprisingly, is the most popular).

Happy holidays!

15 Comments

There is more to the trade secret story. It so happens that the original grafts infected the plants with a phytoplasma that can live in the poinsettia vascular system and cause its hosts to freely branch. This led to a compact growth pattern with more branch tips that flower. A phytoplasma is a kind of filamentous bacterium that does not have a cell wall. These were only discovered 20-30 years ago. Botanists realized the characteristics of the grafted poinsettias matched those of phytoplasma infected plants and were able to identify it in commercially grown poinsettias.

merry christmas morning from my part of florida usa

thank you for the lovely greetings from everyone


Happy Hollidays for everyone!

Thank you for this wonderfull gift for me, to see my fotographs in this beautifull place I use to vitit almost every day e where I can learn about nature.
Thank you for your share.

Greatings from Portugal!

Our church alter this year was solely the white, which isn't a true white of course. :-)

Comfort and Joy!
Thank you all for your commentary, poetry and mutual excitement when seeing these fabulous photos!
Happy winter solstice celebration to all, good cheer!

I celebrate Christmas as a cultural holiday and today's entry is really educational about an aspect of Christmas so many of us in the western world take for granted. I had no idea there was a Poinsettia mass-production monopoly!

I've lived most of my life roughly two miles from the center of the Poinsettia monopoly: the Paul Ecke Ranch in Encinitas, CA. Though they may have lost their "near-monopoly", the Eckes still control the majority of the production facilities, even though they are now mostly in other countries. The Ranch in Encinitas is still where all of their R&D is done, and they still lead the world in coming up with new varieties. I used to regularly run into Paul Ecke Sr. around town, especially at an ice cream parlor we both favored.-) It was easy to forget that this nice old man licking his ice cream cone had almost single-handedly created an agricultural industry and empire. The Eckes also used to be one of the largest land-owners in north-coastal San Diego County, but they sold off much of the land to bankroll their out-of-country production facilities.

I've been growing poinsettias commercially since 1976. Although the grafting process may have secured the Ecke family's monopoly on new variety introduction until the 90's, grafting has nothing to do with commercial production of established varieties. The hundreds of thousands of rooted and unrooted cuttings that are essential to holiday commerce in poinsettias are just ordinary tip cuttings. Real estate pressure, as well as lower labor costs and tropical temperatures have sent cuttings production for many plants offshore.

Air freight transformed every aspect of commercial horticulture. Before that time, poinsettias were grown in the field in California, then dug and shipped by rail in bushel baskets to customers around the US. Cuttings were then taken as the plants resumed normal growth. These poinsettias were lanky and often dropped all their leaves as the red bracts matured. It's said that decorative pot wrapping was invented to hide the bare bases of the old poinsettia varieties.

The Ecke family has educated generations of greenhouse operators in the production of poinsettias... most of us who grow poinsettias learned to do so from the Eckes.

Rename your site the botany picture of whenever I get around to it, being you are a lazy canuck.

Roger, it is so much easier to complain than understand. Daniel always gives and explaination, but I'm sure YOU could do much better!
Daniel, THANK YOU for this site!!!

we are on holiday around here roger

Thanks for the beautiful post, everyone!

It's been a long time since I've commented, but I always enjoy the plant photos and sound information here. So I should point out that poinsettia is native to Mexico, and I think your link on toxicity confirms that.

Thanks, by the way, for putting in so many informative links! Keep up the great work; few of us manage to post daily and that's just fine!

Roger, Marcy is correct, and we eagerly await the link to your daily blog of beautiful photos and scientifically informative writings. In the meantime, Daniel is doing the best he can with limited funding and time, and you should remember the new version of the old adage: if you can't say anything nice [or at least constructive], STFU. Oh, and the nationalist bigotry is completely uncalled for.

saturday 1-11-11 this is the new year my flight was delayed out
of new york last night i am on my way south but i was left with
a whole lot of plants and i do not know what they are
soooo i will leave them with you and your friends
2010 says you're all great and stay out of the poison ivy!



happy new year daniel and company

The poinsettia may be native to Mexico and Central America, but I saw lots of wild poinsettias in Taiwan (the little island off the SE coast of China, NOT Thailand) just a few weeks ago. I suppose it must have been brought over as a cultivated plant and then escaped?

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