The Poinsettia: Fun Facts, Tips and Myths

All About the Christmas Flower, and is It Really Poisonous?

poinsettias growing


Nora Carol Photography / Getty Images 

In the hearts and minds and on the porches and entryways of thousands of home decorators, the poinsettia is still the official Christmas plant. With the availability of poinsettias offered at lower prices from big-box retailers, discount, and grocery stores, the many independent garden centers and growers that traditionally sell them have seen a decline in sales in recent years.

Consumer polls still show the poinsettia to be the season's favorite plant. Maybe it's the different colors and varieties in which it comes, its rich history and tradition, or the mystery and folklore that surrounds the Mexican native. Let's find out more about this exotic beauty.

  • 01 of 08

    Are Poinsettias Poisonous?

    picture of early joy poinsettia
    The Early Joy pink poinsettia, at the Paul Ecke Poinsettia Ranch in Encinitas, California. Photo &copy Lisa Hallett Taylor

    First off, let's tackle that elephant in the room. Stories run rampant about the poisonous properties of poinsettias. Among them: poinsettias are toxic—even lethal—to people and pets.

    Truth: Curious puppies and kittens may chew on any plant, so err on the side of caution. Place the plants up high and out of reach until your pets are older. Most animals aren't drawn to poinsettia plants any more than any other houseplants.

    According to the National Capital Poison Center, an online consumer source for information about poisons, exposure to any parts of a poinsettia plant in children or pets has little if any effect. If ingested, it could cause mild irritation, such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Touching the milky sap can cause a mild skin irritation or a rash. Even so, maybe you should forget about that poinsettia-packed pesto recipe.

  • 02 of 08

    Can I Make a Cocktail From Poinsettias?

    poinsettia cocktails
    Poinsettia cocktails. Flickr member Dan Costin

    No, you can't make a cocktail out of an actual poinsettia plant. Sorry.

    However, there is a festive seasonal cocktail called a Poinsettia. It's made with cranberry juice, Cointreau or triple sec and champagne.  A variation features pomegranate juice and is known as a pomegranate poinsettia cocktail. Cheers!

  • 03 of 08

    Can I Make a Poinsettia Salad?

    red jell-o salad
    A festive red gelatin salad. Flickr member Chris

    All those mini Euro lettuces with mixed with some pretty poinsettias sure would make a sensational seasonal salad. And the milky white sap could mix in with the ranch dressing.

    Seriously, no.

    But there are assorted recipes for poinsettia salads, possibly named so for their color and festivity factor. Dr. Bobb's Kitschen features an old-time recipe that calls for canned pears glazed with hot-cinnamon candy. Labor intensive, but sure to impress. Or make a red and green Jell-O creation and call it a poinsettia salad.

  • 04 of 08

    Do Poinsettias Have Medicinal Properties?

    Photo &copy Lisa Hallett Taylor

    Like many plants, poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) were once used for medicinal purposes. The ancient Aztecs used the milky sap of the poinsettia plant to treat fevers. Don't try this at home.

    Continue to 5 of 8 below.
  • 05 of 08

    How Did the Poinsettia Myth Start?

    Maroon poinsettia plant. Lisa Hallett Taylor

    According to various sources, in 1919 an Army officer stationed in Hawaii found his 2-year-old child dead underneath a poinsettia tree, a leaf in his/her hand. Versions of the story have perpetuated, even though there are no documented reports of poinsettia fatalities.

    The fact is that nobody has ever died from ingesting poinsettia. To disprove this undying myth, members of the Society of American Florists frequently eat poinsettias for the press each December. Still, find something else to eat.

  • 06 of 08

    Where is the Poinsettia From?

    ice punch poinsettia picture
    Ice Punch poinsettia. Photo &copy Lisa Hallett Taylor

    If you've heard that the poinsettia is from Mexico or Central America, then it's true. Flor de Nochebuena's peak blooming season is during November and December in the Mexican states of Oaxaca and Guerrero, where it can reach up to 12 feet in height. It also can be grown in other warm-winter regions, like Southern California (Encinitas, in San Diego County, is the poinsettia-growing capitol) and the Hawaiian islands.

  • 07 of 08

    Can I Grow Blue Poinsettias With Glitter?

    blue poinsettia
    Blue poinsettia in arrangement. Flickr member Jim the Photographer

    If you can, share your secret. Otherwise, those blue, purple (not plum), glittery and tinted poinsettias you've seen at a local store have been tinted, sprayed, sprinkled, hair sprayed and had things done to them that would make all the natural poinsettias laugh the fakes out of the greenhouse. They do that with carnations and other popular flowers too. But if you like it, that's quite OK. Just don't try to grow one.

  • 08 of 08

    Do I Have to Stick Them in a Closet to Rebloom?

    Right. Put them in a closet where you'll forget about them until they dry out and leave a powdery substance all over last summer's sandals. Still, if you are determined to rebloom the poinsettia plants you can.