POINSETTIA - Nochebuena

Sometimes visitors from the North see a bushy tree with large red flowers at its branch tips, stop to take a look, and can't believe their eyes. Below is what the plant looks like around Christmas:


What's surprising is the red flowers, shown below:

POINSETTIA, flowering head

Christmas Poinsettia! -- Euphorbia pulcherrima. Probably you already know that Poinsettias are named after Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Minister to Mexico, who introduced the plant into the US in 1825. So, Poinsettias are native to Mexico, but this particular species isn't native to the Yucatan. The Yucatan's are planted, as they are in much of the world's tropical lands. Christmas Poinsettias sold in pots up north are basically branch tips of this plant managed by horticulturalists to flower at a certain time.

Something else to know about Poinsettias is that the big red item shown in the above photo is not a flower. The long red things most people think of as flower petals are modified leaves called bracts, meant to attract pollinators to the real flowers, which reside in the center of the cluster of bracts. Below you see the "real" Poinsettia flowers.


In the picture, the structure labeled as a cyathium is like a bowl containing a few male flowers and one female flower. Above and to the left of the labeled cyathium you can see another cyathium from which male stamens are protruding. But notice that to the right of the labeled cyathium there's a "pistillate flower" -- the female flower -- on a curved stem dangling outside the cyathium. This just shows you how surreal things can get in the world of flowers!