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Flora Fact

Wild Christmas Blooms

Texas’ native poinsettias provide a seasonal flourish.


Nature has a way of telling us it’s Christmas. Wild poinsettias (from a large group of plants called spurges) turn red to create a soul-stirring commemoration of the season (till first frost). The innermost parts of this beauty’s star-shaped bracts showcase vibrant red holiday hues.

Euphorbia cyathophora’s irregular red blotches look like flowers (or tiny replicas of domesticated poinsettia “flowers”) among the green lobed leaves. Yellow pollen within the clusters on these dwarf poinsettias attracts small insects and butterflies; the foliage is forage for sphinx moth caterpillars.

Poinsettias produce a milky sap if a branch is broken. The sap can irritate the membranes of the eyes and mouth.

The Texas poinsettia resembles its showy relative, the Christmas poinsettia, which came from Mexico. The Aztecs called the shrub cuetlaxchitl and used it to produce a reddish-purple dye and sap for treating fevers. It was introduced into the U.S. in 1828. In the 1920s, the plant was cultivated for sale at Christmas.

With many descriptive nicknames — Mexican fireplant, painted euphorbia, desert poinsettia, fire on the mountain, paint leaf — these wild poinsettias grow in all parts of Texas.

December 12 is National Poinsettia Day. Big Spring State Park celebrates “Poinsettias in the Park” from December 1 to January 1, with the park’s 200-foot bluff featuring six large metal poinsettias with lights.

 Steven Schwartzman

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