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History of Poinsettias

Poinsettia – Euphorbia pulcherrima cv.
Photo: Jardin botanique de Montréal (Gilles Murray)
Euphorbia pulcherrima 'Gutbier V-14 Pink'

Introduced to horticulture nearly 200 years ago, poinsettias have become an iconic holiday plant in numerous countries. Here’s a quick look at their horticultural history.

Early days in horticulture

Poinsettias owe their common name to diplomat Joel R. Poinsett. He introduced them to the United States when he was the first American ambassador to Mexico, from 1825 to 1829.

A scientist and botanist, Poinsett noticed euphorbias with red bracts growing wild in the hills around Taxco. He sent a few of these plants home to South Carolina for his personal collection, where he began propagating them in his greenhouses and giving them to friends and botanical gardens.

A few years later, poinsettias were being sold at Christmastime in and around Philadelphia and New York.

Creating a variety of cultivars

Although commercial poinsettia production began in 1828, the Ecke family, which settled in the United States in the early 20th century, is probably the name most often associated with poinsettia growing. Through their selection and breeding work, they were able to produce smaller, longer-lasting, more vigorous and hardier cultivars that keep their leaves longer.

The modern era of poinsettia growing began in 1923 with the introduction of the ‘Oak Leaf’ cultivar, the first to retain some of its leaves while in bloom. Earlier poinsettias had borne colourful bracts on leggy, leafless stems

Later, specimens with pink, variegated or white bracts began to appear on the market. Some double varieties were also grown in the 1930s. Since the 1960s, many different cultivars have been developed to adapt these plants to indoor growing conditions. All cultivated poinsettias today are hybrids and improved selections.

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