No flower says Christmas like the beautiful poinsettia.
Ron Wolford, a UI Extension horticulture educator, offers a few facts about this traditional Christmas plant:
— Poinsettias are part of the Euphorbiaceae or Spurge family. Botanically, the plant is known as Euphorbia pulcherrima.
Many plants in the Euphorbiaceae family ooze a milky sap. Some people with latex allergies have had a skin reaction (most likely to the sap) after touching the leaves.
For pets, the poinsettia sap may cause mild irritation or nausea.
"It's probably best to keep pets away from the plant, especially puppies and kittens," Wolford said.
— Poinsettias are not actually poisonous.
"A study at Ohio State University showed that a 50-pound child would have to eat more than 500 leaves to have any harmful effect," he said. "Plus, poinsettia leaves have an awful taste. You might want to keep your pets from snacking on poinsettia leaves. Eating the leaves can cause vomiting and diarrhea."
— The showy colored parts of poinsettias that most people think of as the flowers are actually colored bracts (modified leaves). Poinsettias have also been called the lobster flower and the flame-leaf flower, due to the red color.
— Joel Roberts Poinsett introduced the poinsettia to the United States from Mexico. Poinsett was a botanist, physician and the first United States ambassador to Mexico.
"In Mexico, the poinsettia is a perennial shrub that will grow 10 to 15 feet tall," Wolford said.
— With more than 100 varieties available today, poinsettias come in colors like the traditional red, white, pink, burgundy, marbled and speckled.
The Paul Ecke Ranch in California grows more than 70 percent of all poinsettias purchased in the U.S. and accounts for about 50 percent of worldwide sales of poinsettias.
For more information about poinsettias, visit urbanext.illinois.edu/poinsettia/.