By Julie Murphree, Arizona Farm Bureau Outreach Director
Every year, a few weeks before Christmas, Arizona Nursery Association and Arizona Farm Bureau deliver fresh, Arizona-grown Poinsettias to the state’s lawmakers. This year was no exception and marks more than 30 years of making these delightful Christmas beauties the centerpiece of the Arizona Governor’s office.
Arizona horticulturalists have always cultivated beautiful poinsettias, but tracking their economic contribution has been difficult. According to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Services, the only mention of poinsettias is from its Floriculture report last released in April 2016 from the Floriculture Survey. Unfortunately, Arizona has not done a Floriculture Survey since 2005 due to budget constraints.
So, USDA-NASS has had no Arizona poinsettia information since 2005 when Arizona data showed five farms with wholesale value of sales of $1.69 million from sales of 375,000 pots.
Only the top 15 states continued with the annual survey that includes poinsettia data.
Interesting Facts About Poinsettias
The poinsettia’s origins to the United States begin with Joel Roberts Poinsett who introduced the poinsettia plant to the United States from Mexico. Poinsett was a botanist, physician and the first United States Ambassador to Mexico. Poinsettias are part of the Euphorbiaceae or Spurge family. Botanically, the plant is known as Euphorbia pulcherrima.
- Unlike other colorful plants, we’re attracted to the poinsettia’s leaves, not its flowers. The showy colored parts of poinsettias we love the most are colored bracts or modified leaves. The flowers of the plant are the yellow clustered buds in the center (termed “cyathia”). The leaves turn color in response to the plant forming flowers. So, when buying a poinsettia, make sure it has the buds preferably not yet open, suggest our floral experts.
- Today, there are more than 100 varieties of poinsettias. Poinsettias come in colors like the traditional red, white, pink, burgundy, marbled and speckled. Red is the most popular color, accounting for roughly three-quarters of all sales nationwide, followed by white and pink. New varieties are annually introduced.
- According to the USDA Floriculture Statistics latest report (2016), potted poinsettias brought in $140 million to the flower market, down 3% from the previous year.
- Although every state in the United States grows poinsettias commercially, California is the top producer with an average of more than 6 to 8 million pots grown, followed by North Carolina, Texas, Florida and Ohio for our top five states. While Arizona, does not rank in the top states it annually produces some of its own beautifully colored Arizona-grown poinsettias.
- A native of southern Mexico, the poinsettia is a perennial shrub that will grow 10 to 15 feet tall. The poinsettia blooms in December and has been used in that country to decorate churches for centuries. In the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries, the Aztecs used the poinsettia leaves to dye fabric for clothing and the sap for medicinal purposes, including to help control fevers. They also considered the red color a symbol of purity.
- Poinsettias have also been called the lobster flower and the flame-leaf flower, due to the red color.
- The Paul Ecke Ranch in California grows over 70% of all Poinsettias purchased in the United States and does about 50% of the world-wide sales of Poinsettias.
- December 12th is Poinsettia Day, which also marks the death of Joel Roberts Poinsett in 1851.
- True or False. The poinsettia is a poisonous plant. If you answered false, you’re correct. The plant has been tested repeatedly and cleared of this charge by authorities such as the National Poison Center in Atlanta, Georgia, and the American Medical Association. However, this doesn’t mean that poinsettias are meant to be eaten. If ingested, this plant can cause stomach irritation and discomfort. Cats and children also may choke on the fibrous parts, so be sure to keep these plants out of their reach. The sticky white sap also may cause skin irritation for some people.
Caring for your Poinsettias
According to the Arizona Nursery Association and master gardeners, caring for your poinsettias if you want the plant to last beyond Christmas is straight-forward. First, consider where you place the plant. Avoid hot or cold drafts. Next, regularly check the soil and make sure it’s kept moist, but not soggy. Place in a room with sufficient natural light and temperatures of around 60 to 70 degrees F. Water when the soil begins to dry. Protect your poinsettia from exposure to wind or cold on the way home from the store. Poinsettias are highly sensitive to cold temperatures and even a few minutes of exposure to 50-degree F or lower temperatures will cause them to wilt.
“Poinsettias purchased at local Arizona retail nurseries make great gifts during the holiday season,” says Arizona Nursery Association Executive Director Cheryl Goar. “Their bright colorful leaves (sometimes red, pink, white or variegated) are captivating and add flare to any holiday decor. As stated above, if you have a green thumb, poinsettias can last well after the holiday season.”
And, if cared for according to instructions, poinsettias usually will outlast your desire to keep them.
- Arizona Nursery Association
- United States Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Services
- University of Illinois Extension
- University of Arizona Extension