Red Poinsettias

Each year, D.S. Cole Growers in Loudon invites the public to visit and tour its greenhouses in late November. The attraction? They grow 40,000 poinsettias for the holiday season. Tour-goers are encouraged to bring their cameras to take photos, observe the numerous new and unusual varieties and learn more about the lucrative business of poinsettia growing.

Unfortunately, the public can’t buy poinsettias at this annual event as the greenhouse is a wholesale distributor of annual plants, but visit any grocery store, department store or garden center this time of year and you’ll be able to find one easily. Red, pink or white, take your pick.

Because Dec. 12 is National Poinsettia Day, and to pay tribute, here are a few facts to share about the holiday favorite, according to an article by Dr. Leonard Perry of the University of Vermont Extension. You can read more at pss.uvm.edu/ppp/articles/points.htm.

• Every state grows poinsettias commercially and California is the top producer with more than 6 million pots. North Carolina grows 4.4 million, Texas boasts 3.7 million and then comes Florida and Ohio with more than 3 million pots each.

• More than 34 million poinsettias are sold annually in the U.S., accounting for about 23 percent of all flowering plant sales, according to a USDA report in 2013 — they are the highest selling potted plant. According to poinsettiaday.com, they account for upwards of $250 million in sales at the wholesale level. Easter lilies are the next popular.

• At 75 percent of all sales, red is the most popular color, then white and then pink. With new varieties introduced annually, there are more than 100 in existence.

• Although its leaves look like blooms, the flowers of the poinsettia are actually the cluster of yellow buds in the center of the colored leaves. In the wild or in tropical climates, the poinsettia can grow to 12 feet in height, the equivalent of a small tropical tree.

• The poinsettia is native to Mexico where it blooms in December and is called “La Flor de la Nochebuena” — Flower of the Holy Night. Its history is connected to the legend of an upset young girl who wanted a gift to honor Baby Jesus in a Christmas procession. After an angel tells her that any gift given with love is wonderful, she gathers weeds by the roadside and places them around the manger where they are transformed into beautiful poinsettias.

• The Aztecs called the plant “Cuitlaxochitl,” meaning “star flower,” and used the poinsettia leaves to dye fabric for clothing and had medicinal uses for its sap to control fever. It was also part of religious ceremonies due to red being a symbolic color of purity.

• It was named for Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett, an amateur botanist who first brought the plant to the U.S. from Mexico in 1828. He owned a plantation in Greenville, South Carolina, where he began to study and breed it in his greenhouse. Until the 1960s, its bloom time was only a few days.

• The House of Representatives created Poinsettia Day in 2002 to honor Paul Ecke Jr., a California grower who was widely considered the “father of the poinsettia industry.”

• Although widely believed to be poisonous, ingesting the poinsettia will not kill humans or pets, although it will probably make them sick to the stomach.

• Help your poinsettia last longer by keeping it away from drafts, with soil that is moist but not soaked, and allow good natural light. Temperatures should be kept at 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal lifespan. During transport, be sure to protect it from the wind and cold, which will cause quick wilting.

Want to learn more about this beauty, its care and national day of honor? Visit

poinsettiaday.com.