The vibrant red and green foliage of the poinsettia are familiar sights in homes around the world during the Christmas holiday season. But have you ever wondered how this exotic flowering plant from Mexico became a quintessential symbol of Christmas?
It is a series of intriguing stories full of human drama, mysteries, secrets, challenges, and world domination. One story involves searching out wild poinsettias in the middle of two drug cartel-controlled territories.
Craig McManus, your host of "The Garden Question Podcast", delves into the captivating history, cultivation, selection, and care of poinsettias with Dr. Jim Faust a Professor of Floriculture Physiology from Clemson University in South Carolina.
He does research in greenhouse production of various flowering crops, teaches hydroponics, and greenhouse production courses. He grew his first poinsettia crop in 1986.
The Poinsettia's journey began in 1828 when Joel Poinsett, a South Carolina politician, sent the first living poinsettias out of Mexico to the United States. Poinsett was known in the botany world as a horticulturist. This meant he was more interested in plants that bring benefits economically to society as food or ornamental crops.
However, the association of poinsettias with Christmas did not start until the turn of the century, around the 1900s. It was during that time that greenhouses began to recognize the potential market for selling the plant during the holiday season. As the quality of the breeding and selection improved, sales grew annually and the poinsettia began to evolve as the de-facto Christmas flower.
Understanding the science behind poinsettias' growth and cultivation is essential. The process begins with the propagation of the poinsettia by a cutting. These cuttings are propagated from mother plants, grown in places like Mexico, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. Then distributed to growers all over North America and Europe.
Find out why every poinsettia plant sold today carries a critical pathogen that is a key to its success and is detrimental all other plants.
When choosing a poinsettia, Professor Faust advised consumers to pick fresh-looking ones, where the 'cyathia ' (or the yellow part in the center of the flower) are full. The plant should be kept moist and prevented from extreme cold or heat.
Perhaps the most widespread myth about poinsettias is their supposed toxicity. This misconception likely stems from the plant's white latex sap, which many poisonous plants also secrete. However, poinsettias are not poisonous. The white latex in poinsettias is primarily a deterrent against herbivores and while not pleasant to the taste, is not harmful to humans or pets.
Looking ahead, researchers and growers are continually working on innovations in poinsettia cultivation. One focus is on the development of heat-resistant varieties and other pest management strategies.
In conclusion, the history of the poinsettia and its journey from the wilds of Mexico to Christmas celebrations around the world is an intriguing story of cultural tradition, agricultural innovation, and horticultural achievement.
This beautiful plant, with its vibrant spectacle of colors, isn’t just a holiday decoration but a testament to the fusion of nature, culture, and science.
The next time you bring home a poinsettia for the holidays, remember the extraordinary journey it has taken to reach you, and appreciate the labor of love behind each vibrant bloom. After all, the spirit of Christmas is all about celebrating and the poinsettia is one fantastic way to celebrate.
This is an encore and remixed episode.
00:00 Introduction to the Garden Question Podcast
00:38 The Intriguing Story of the Poinsettia
02:02 The History of the Poinsettia
02:09 The Journey of the Poinsettia to the United States
02:50 The Role of Joel Poinsett in the Poinsettia's Journey
07:02 The Evolution of the Poinsettia
07:16 The Shipping Process of Plants in the 1800s
09:56 The Commercialization of the Poinsettia
15:13 The Development of the Modern Poinsettia
18:47 The Challenges of Growing Poinsettias
20:10 The Marketing and Sales of Poinsettias
22:15 The Future of Poinsettias
27:49 The Process of Reblooming a Poinsettia
30:07 The Development of Multi-Branching Poinsettias
34:34 Understanding Plant Patents and Genetic Control
35:06 The Mystery of Free Branching Characteristic in Plants
35:41 The Role of Phytoplasma in Plant Branching
36:06 The Discovery of Grafting Technique for Free Branching
37:15 The Secretive Business of Poinsettia Breeding
38:49 The Impact of Phytoplasma on Poinsettia Breeding
40:02 The Challenges in Poinsettia Breeding
42:19 The Journey of Poinsettia from Cutting to Market
47:26 The Impact of Heat Delay on Poinsettia Growth
49:40 The Adventure of Seeing Poinsettia in Its Native Environment
54:29 The Controversy of Biopiracy in Poinsettia Commercialization
57:53 The Future of Poinsettia Breeding
59:09 Tips for Selecting and Caring for Poinsettias
01:01:47 Debunking Myths about Poinsettias