The beautiful Poinsettias (genus Euphorbus) we see decorating building interiors this time of the year are not native to the USA, but rather to Southern Mexico and Central America. However, did you know we have a species of native poinsettias here in America as well?
Members of the Spurge (Euphorbiaceae) family, there are a number of native Euphorbus species. The one most like the non-native is the annual Painted Poinsettia (Euphorbia cyathophora). Its bracts turn orange-red and it is has fiddle-shaped leaves. Sometimes called Fire on the mountain, it is closely related to Snow on the Mountain (Euphorbia marginata) which has showy, variegated light green and white leaves.
All have a thick, white sap which can irritate skin and eyes.
None of the native Euphorbus species, however, are as showy as the non-native Euphorbus species.
Interestingly enough, the Poinsettia gets its name from the first American Ambassador to Mexico Joel Roberts Poinsett. In 1828 he sent the first plants back to the USA where he propagated and shared the plant with friends and botanical gardens. (Mr Poinsett is also know as the founder of the Smithsonian Institution.)
Note: The native Snow on the Mountain (Euphorbia marginata) is different from the invasive non-native Bishop’s Weed (Aegopodium podgraria) often called by the same name.
To learn more about the legends associated with Poinsettia.