All About Poinsettias

Each year, Cantigny's Greenhouse bursts with beautiful holiday color.

Over 3,000 poinsettia plants fill Cantigny’s Greenhouse with color – grown by our Horticulture staff to use as displays throughout the park, donate to non-profits, and sell directly to you for your holiday decor or gift-giving.

Up to 16 varieties of poinsettia will be on display in the McCormick House during Christmas at Cantigny. Plants will also be available for sale at the Visitors Center while supplies last.

A special online pre-sale for three varieties (Prestige Red, Superba New Glitter, and Premium Ice Crystal) will begin on November 15. Pre-purchased poinsettias may be picked up at the Visitors Center November 27-30, from 10am – 4pm.

Tips for Successful Poinsettias

The #1 question our growers are asked about taking care of their poinsettias is, “How do you get them to rebloom?”

  • DO select plants with green foliage all the way down to the soil.
  • DO select plants with strong stems and no signs of wilting or breaking.
  • DO look for plants that have small yellow buttons (cyathia) in the center of the colored bracts. These buttons will develop into tiny yellow flowers.
  • DO be wary of plants displayed in protective sleeves or that are too closely crowded in a display. The longer a plant remains sleeved, the more the quality will deteriorate.
  • DO protect your plant with a paper sleeve or shopping bag when transporting it. Protect it from chilling winds and temps below 50 degrees.
  • DO place your plant in indirect sunlight for at least six hours per day. Avoid direct sunlight.
  • DO provide room temperatures between 65 and 70 degrees. If you’re comfortable, your poinsettia probably is too.
  • DO water your plant when the soil feels dry to the touch.
  • DON’T place plants near cold drafts or excessive heat sources such as hot air ducts, fireplaces or appliances
  • DON’T over water your plant or allow it to sit in standing water. Water thoroughly, but allow the water to drain from the pot completely.
  • DON’T expose your plant to chilling winds when transporting it.
  • DON’T fertilize your plant while it is in bloom.


History: Cultivated by the Aztecs

The poinsettia is native to Mexico and originated near an area of Southern Mexico known as Taxco. Long before the arrival of Europeans, the Aztecs of Central Mexico cultivated the plant for practical uses. From its bracts they extracted a purplish dye for uses in textiles and cosmetics. The milky white sap, today called latex, was used as a fever medicine. Because of its brilliant color, the poinsettia was a symbol of purity to the Indians and was prized by their kings.

Used in Nativity Celebrations

During the 17th Century, a community of Franciscan priests settled in the Taxco area. When they found this bright red flower blooming naturally on the slopes during the season of Advent, they used it to adorn the Nativity Celebration. This custom soon became a tradition throughout Mexico.

The Legend of the Poinsettia

Dating back several centuries is a charming story about Pepita, a poor Mexican girl, who had no gift to present to the Christ child at Christmas Eve services. As Pepita walked slowly to the chapel empty handed, her heart was filled with sadness rather than joy. Not knowing what else to do, Pepita knelt down by the roadside and gathered a handful of common weeds, fashioning them into a small bouquet. She felt her spirit lift as she knelt to lay the bouquet at the foot of the nativity scene. Suddenly, the bouquet of weeds burst into blooms of brilliant red, and all who saw them were certain they had witnessed a Christmas miracle. From that day on, the bright red flowers were known as the Flores de Noche Buena or Flowers of the Holy Night, for they bloomed each year for the Christmas season.

Discovered by Joel Poinsett

Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Ambassador to Mexico, had a love of botany and was the founder of the Smithsonian Institute. While visiting Taxco Mexico, he became enchanted by the brilliant red blooms, which he sent back to South Carolina to be propagated.

The poinsettia was first introduced into cultivation and commercial trade by Bartram’s Garden on June 6, 1829, at an exhibition of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. In 1834, Robert Bulst, a Pennsylvania nurseryman, introduced the plant to Europe under its botanical name, Euphorbia pulcherrima, literally, “the most beautiful Euphorbia.” However, the common name, Poinsettia, has remained the accepted designation.

In 1920, Paul Ecke, Sr. of Encinitas, CA developed the first poinsettia cultivars that could be successfully grown as an indoor potted plant and he hastened to introduce them to flower growers across the country. In recent years, numerous new cultivars have been hybridized and marketed making the poinsettia more vibrant and versatile for Holiday decorating. Today, the poinsettia is not only the most popular Christmas plant, but also the number one flowering potted plant in the United States.

National Poinsettia Day

By an act of Congress, December 12 has been designated as National Poinsettia Day. The date marks the death of Joel Roberts Poinsett, the man responsible for introducing the plant to the United States. The purpose of this day is to enjoy and share the beauty of this plant.

Are Poinsettias Really Poisonous?

Contrary to popular belief, poinsettia plants are not poisonous. Contact with the sap of a poinsettia plant may cause a mild, itchy rash. If this happens, wash the affected area with soap and water and apply a cool compress to ease itching. Eating the leaves or stems of a poinsettia plant may cause a mild stomachache, vomiting or diarrhea, but severe signs and symptoms are unlikely. If you find a child eating a poinsettia plant, clear his or her mouth and move the plant out of reach. (Courtesy of