Sunday, December 12, 2010

Celebrate...the Poinsettia


December 12 is National Poinsettia Day.

The Poinsettia is indigenous to Mexico and Central America.  The plant is named after Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Minister to Mexico, who introduced the plant into the US in 1828.

It isn’t the flowering plant we think it is.  Actually the bright red, orange, pale green, cream, pink, white or marbled parts are actually leaves.  The “flowers” are the small yellow pieces in the center of each leaf bunch.

The plant's association with Christmas began in 16th century Mexico, where legend tells of a young girl who was too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus' birthday. The story is that the child was inspired by an angel to gather weeds from the roadside and place them in front of the church altar. Red "blossoms" sprouted from the weeds and became beautiful poinsettias. In the 17th century, Franciscan friars in Mexico introduced the plants in their Christmas celebrations. They introduced the idea of the star-shaped leaf symbolizing the Star of Bethlehem, and the red color representing the blood of Jesus.

There is a common misconception that the poinsettia is highly poisonous. That is because most plants of this genus are toxic.  It is mildly irritating to the skin or stomach.  It could cause diarrhea and vomiting if eaten.  If sap got into a person’s eyes it could cause temporary blindness. An American Journal of Emergency Medicine study of 22,793 cases reported to the American Association of Poison Control Centers showed no fatalities, and that most were accidental, involved children, and did not result in any type of medical treatment. POISINDEX, a major source for poison control centers, says a 50-pound child would have to eat 500 bracts to be toxic. An Ohio State University study showed no problems even with extremely large doses.  So, it is not poisonous, but is still mildy toxic and probably should be kept out of reach of small children or pets or anyone sensitive to latex or other irritations.

So, go ahead, enjoy the beauty of the plant and the season.

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