The poinsettia is a commercially important plant species of the diverse spurge family. The species is indigenous to Mexico. It derives its common English name from Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Minister to Mexico, who introduced the plant to the US in 1825.

The poinsettia’s association with Christmas comes from a Mexican legend. The story goes that a child, with no means for a gift, gathered humble weeds from the side of the road to place at the church alter on Christmas Eve. As the congregation watched, the weeds turned into brilliant red and green flowers.

But, the most beautiful “petals” on the plant aren’t flowers at all, but lush red, white, or green leaves. The flowers are actually the little yellow buds in the center of each collection of leaves.

Many people believe that poinsettias are highly toxic, but that is a myth. While it’s not recommended for people or animals to eat poinsettias, a child would have to eat 500 leaves to have a major reaction. Some people who have a latex allergy might find skin contact with poinsettia sap irritates their skin.

The poinsettia is December’s birth flower. Left to its own devices, a poinsettia bush can grow to heights of 10 to 15 feet. There are more than 100 varieties of poinsettias available today. Poinsettias can grow in colors like the traditional red, white, pink, burgundy, marbled, and speckled.

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