Flowers Of The Holy Night

Discovered by a U.S. ambassador to Mexico, these spectacular plants have become an enduring symbol of Christmas.
Each little knob in the center is a complete flower. The surrounding bracts provide the color.

The poinsettia, a native of the Mexican desert near Cuernavaca, is the most popular potted plant in this country despite the fact that more than 90 percent are sold in just a six-week period. It’s also one of the most mispronounced—the correct pronunciation is: poin-séh-ti-a.

The poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is a member of the spurge family, often called the euphorbs (pronounced yóu-forbs). Like others in this large and varied family, poinsettias have a milky sap, though scientific tests of every part of the plant have shown that they are not poisonous to either humans or their pets.

It’s typical of this family that the flowering heads contain small flowers with no petals that are arranged to mimic the form of a typical flower. The female flowers sit up on stalks and are surrounded by small male flowers. Below the flowers, the modified and brightly colored leaves called bracts substitute as petals to attract pollinators to the flower.

Read the entire article in the November 2007 issue