1. Family: Euphorbiaceae Juss.
    1. Genus: Euphorbia L.
      1. Euphorbia pulcherrima Willd. ex Klotzsch

        Euphorbia pulcherrima is a popular garden plant in tropical and subtropical areas and is well-known as a pot-plant associated with winter festivities in temperate regions. The common English name ‘poinsettia’ was chosen by historian and gardener William H. Prescott in the mid 19th century to honour Joel Roberts Poinsett who introduced the species to the USA in 1828.


    Kew Species Profiles

    General Description

    Euphorbia pulcherrima is a popular garden plant in tropical and subtropical areas and is well-known as a pot-plant associated with winter festivities in temperate regions. The common English name ‘poinsettia’ was chosen by historian and gardener William H. Prescott in the mid 19th century to honour Joel Roberts Poinsett who introduced the species to the USA in 1828.

    The genus Euphorbia was named in honour of Euphorbus, the Greek physician to King Juba II of Mauretania (a learned scholar of natural history) in the 1st century AD, who used the latex of Euphorbia species for medicinal purposes.

    Species Profile
    Geography and distribution

    Euphorbia pulcherrima is native to southern Mexico and Guatemala.

    It is also widely cultivated throughout the tropics and subtropics, and escaped plants have become invasive weeds in parts of Africa, India and the Canary Islands.


    Overview: Small tree or shrub up to 4 m tall with few, stout, hairless branches.

    Leaves: Relatively thin, usually 12–20 cm long with pointed tips. Borne on long, slender petioles (leaf stalks).

    Flowers: Each tiny, petal-less female flower is surrounded by male flowers in a cup-shaped series of bracts known as a cyathium. Each cyathium bears a two-lipped, yellow gland. The green and yellow cyathia are in turn surrounded by a series of large, bright red bracts.

    Fruits: Tri-lobed capsules, about 1.5 × 1.5–2.0 cm.

    Seeds: Ovoid, more or less smooth, pale grey.


    Poinsettia is widely cultivated as a garden ornamental in tropical and subtropical areas and grown commercially as a pot-plant, in particular for sale during the winter period. One of the top-selling potted flowering plants in the USA, poinsettias are the basis of a multi-million dollar Christmas industry. Poinsettias have long been associated with the Christian celebration of Christmas and have been used to decorate altars in Guatemala.

    A range of cultivars are available, for example:

    Euphorbia pulcherrima ‘Barbara Ecke Supreme’ – bright blood-red bracts E. pulcherrima ‘Ecke’s White’ – cream-coloured bracts E. pulcherrima ‘Rosea’ – pale pink, darkly veined bracts

    To produce compact, well-branched plants in commerce, rooted cuttings are treated with growth retardants. They are exposed to long periods of darkness to produce brightly coloured bracts (caused by production of anthocyanins).

    Poinsettia latex has been used as a hair removal cream in Mexico and Guatemala. A red dye has been obtained from the bracts. In Guatemala, the latex has been used as a remedy for toothache and to cause vomiting. Poultices of leaves have been applied to treat aches and pains.


    With a little care, it is possible to keep potted poinsettias for re-use the following winter. Once the festive season is over, watering should be reduced.

    After the plant has dropped its leaves, the stems should be cut back by half to two thirds and the plant placed in a shaded position at 10–15°C. Watering should be kept to a minimum.

    In early summer poinsettia should be re-potted and placed in bright, indirect light, where the temperature is about 18°C.

    The red coloration of the bracts should appear after the plant is kept in total darkness for more than 12 hours per night.

    This species at Kew

    Pressed and dried specimens of Euphorbia pulcherrima are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers from around the world, by appointment. The details of some of these can be seen online in Kew’s Herbarium Catalogue.

    A specimen of poinsettia wood is held in Kew’s Economic Botany Collection.

    Kew’s Illustration Collection includes the following paintings by artist Marianne North, which feature poinsettias: Flor de Pascua or Easter Flower at Morro Velho Brazil and The Taj Mahal at Agra North-West India .

    Deciduous tropical forest; hot, seasonally dry forest; moist or wet, wooded ravines.
    Not assessed according to IUCN Red List criteria.

    Ingestion can lead to mild irritation of the mouth and stomach. Although many other species of Euphorbia are poisonous, poinsettia contains only low levels of chemical irritants.



    Found In:

    Guatemala, Mexico Central, Mexico Gulf, Mexico Northeast, Mexico Northwest, Mexico Southeast, Mexico Southwest

    Introduced Into:

    Brazil Northeast, East Himalaya, El Salvador, Gambia, Guinea, Gulf of Guinea Is., Honduras, India, Juan Fernández Is., Malawi, Nicaragua, Panamá, Society Is., Southwest Caribbean, Thailand, Trinidad-Tobago, West Himalaya

    Common Names


    Euphorbia pulcherrima Willd. ex Klotzsch appears in other Kew resources:

    Date Identified Reference Herbarium Specimen Type Status
    Jan 1, 2008 Hinton, G.B. [11722], Guerrero K000476575
    Langlassé, E. [848], Mexico K000478133
    Hinton, G.B. [15799], Michoacán K000476574

    First published in Allg. Gartenzeitung 2: 27 (1834)

    Accepted in:

    • [1] (2016) Phytotaxa 250: 1-431
    • [2] (2014) Phytotaxa 171: 1-78
    • [3] (2012) Journal of Economic and Taxonomic Botany 36: 33-45
    • [4] (2012) Korean Journal of Plant Taxonomy 42: 222-246
    • [5] (2012) Smithsonian Contributions to Botany 98: 1-1192
    • [6] (2012) Taxon 61: 764-789
    • [7] Garcia-Mendoza, A.J. & Meave, J.A. (eds.) (2012) Diversidad florística de Oaxaca: de musgos a angiospermas (colecciones y listas de especies) , ed. 2: 1-351. Instituto de Biología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
    • [10] (2010) Taxonomania. Revue de Taxonomie et de Nomenclature Botaniques 30: 1-307
    • [11] Binojkumar, M.S. & Balakrishnan, N.P. (2010) The genus Euphorbia L. (Euphorbiaceae) in India. A taxonomic revision . Bishen Singh Mahendra Pal Singh, Dehra Dun
    • [13] (2009) Englera 29-1: 1-438
    • [14] (2009) Scripta Botanica Belgica 41: 1-517
    • [17] Nelson Sutherland, C.H. (2008) Catálogo de las plantes vasculares de Honduras. Espermatofitas . SERNA/Guaymuras, Tegucigalpa, Honduras
    • [19] Balakrishnan, N.P. & Chakrabarty, T. (2007) The family Euphorbiaceae in India. A synopsis of its profile, taxonomy and bibliography . Bishen Singh Mahendra Pal Singh, Dehra Dun
    • [20] (2005) Flora of Thailand 8(1): 1-303. The Forest Herbarium, National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, Bangkok
    • [21] (2004) Journal de Botanique Société de Botanique de France 24: 67-78
    • [23] (2001) Monographs in Systematic Botany from the Missouri Botanical Garden 85: i-xlii, 1-2666
    • [24] Govaerts, R., Frodin, D.G. & Radcliffe-Smith, A. (2000) World Checklist and Bibliography of Euphorbiaceae (and Pandaceae) 1-4: 1-1622. The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
    • [26] Welsh, S.L. (1998) Flora Societensis . E.P.S. Inc. Utah
    • [27] Florence, J. (1997) Flore de la Polynésie Française 1: 1-393. ORSTOM éditions, Paris
    • [30] Jones, M. (1991) A checklist of Gambian plants . Michael Jones, The Gambia College


    • [8] Radcliffe-Smith, A. (2012). Flora of Pakistan – Poinsettia pulcherrima.
    • [9] Riina, R. & Berry, P. E. (Coordinators) (2012). Euphorbia Planetary Biodiversity Inventory Project.
    • [12] Dauncey, E. A. (2010). Poisonous Plants: a Guide for Parents and Childcare Providers. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
    • [15] Bennett, M. D. Price, H. J. & Johnston, J. S. (2008). Anthocyanin inhibits propidium iodide DNA fluorescence in Euphorbia pulcherrima: Implications for genome size variation and flow cytometry. Annals of Botany 101: 777–790.
    • [16] Mabberley, D. J. (2008). Mabberley’s Plant-book: a Portable Dictionary of Plants, their Classification and Uses, 3rd Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
    • [18] Parker, T. (2008). Trees of Guatemala. The Tree Press, Texas.
    • [22] Markey, S. (2002). For Poinsettia Growers, it’s Showtime. National Geographic News.
    • [25] Anderson, C. & Tischer, T. (1998). Poinsettias, the December Flower: Myth and Legend – History and Botanical Fact. Waters Edge Press, California.
    • [28] Huxley, A., Griffiths, M. & Levy, M. (eds) (1997). The New Royal Horticultural Society Dictionary of Gardening, Volume 2 (D–K). The Stockton Press, New York.
    • [29] Gonzalez, F., Nelson Diaz, J. & Lowry, P. (1995) Flora Illustrada de San Andrés y Providencia . Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Instituto de Ciencias Naturales, Colombia


    Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone
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