Today is Poinsettia Day, officially declared so by an Act of Congress in 2002. The popular Christmas plant is estimated to pump $250 million into the U.S. economy each year.
David Rodriguez, Horticulturist with the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service, says the poinsettia was introduced to the United States in 1828 by Joel Poinsett, the first U.S. Minister to Mexico. In 2002, House Resolution 471 honored Paul Ecke, Jr., as the father of the poinsettia industry in the United States. It was Ecke’s decoration of Johnny Carson’s set on the Tonight Show that created a national buzz for the colorful flower.
Rodriguez says many of the poinsettias are grown by large wholesale growers right here in San Antonio, but they start in Costa Rica.
"The growers here get the little two to three-inch cuttings from Costa Rica around early to mid-June. From that little stick to the final product, is a six-to-seven month crop from start to end," Rodriguez said. "A lot of people don't understand how long it takes to get a poinsettia out to the market."
The University of Illinois Extension Service also busts the myth that poinsettias are not 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," according to the university website. But the plant can be toxic to pets and can cause diarrhea and vomiting in pets if they eat the leaves.
Poinsettias can be purchased for anywhere from three or four dollars, to $15 or $20 for a higher grade, fuller plant. Rodriguez says a fresh plant with a tight, unopened center flower among the red leaves, should last through New Year’s.