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Nineteenth Century Grower Gave us the Poinsettia

The Poinsettia remains a favorite plant for the holidays.

Plants, like people, sometimes make a long journey from home to another area of the world.  That includes the Poinsettia, a sun-loving tropical plant from Mexico.

The story begins with an emigrant Scottish gardener, Robert Buist (1805-1880).

After coming to Philadelphia in 1828, Buist worked for the oldest American seed company called Landreth pulling weeds, and as a gardener for the wealthy merchant Henry Pratt at his summer estate Lemon Hill.  Gardening was what he knew.

It was in the nursery business however that Buist sought to make his mark. In 1830 he partnered with Thomas Hibbert to buy Bernard McMahon’s nursery, a business well known since the early 1800s. In the new business Buist grew roses and sold them on the streets of Philadelphia, beginning what some would call market gardening.

Born near Edinburg, Buist, whose father was a gardener, trained at the Edinburg Botanic Garden. His father was his inspiration.

After Hibbert’s death, Buist bought his interest in the business and formed the Robert Buist Company, which included a seed division, a nursery, and a greenhouse.  For decades the Company became a source for seeds and plants for gardeners across the country.

Buist’s early training at the Edinburg Botanic Garden gave him the opportunity to meet James McNab, scientist and artist who eventually became the Garden’s Director.  McNab and Buist were the same age when they came to Edinburg to learn about horticulture, both sharing a dream of a career in gardening.

In the early 1830s McNab traveled to America with retired nurseryman Robert Brown to learn about our native plants.  McNab, of course, visited his friend Buist in Philadelphia.  That visit would forever be linked to our celebration of Christmas.

The Poinsettia Comes to the US

As early as 1819 the federal government played an important role in gathering foreign plants by instructing American diplomats to collect plants and seeds. One such diplomat was Dr. Joel Poinsett, the first United States ambassador to Mexico.

In 1825 Poinsett came upon a plant in Mexico that so impressed him that he had cuttings shipped to his home in Charleston, South Carolina.  Buist bought the plant from him and grew it for a couple of years. He named it Euphorbia poinsettia, the first word because of its milky sap, much like other varieties of Euphorbia, and the second in honor of Dr. Poinsett.

It was the bright red bracts however that made the plant so special to Buist.  He wrote later that it was “truly the most magnificent of all the tropical plants we have ever seen.”

When McNab visited Buist in 1834, he gave the plant to him to take back to Scotland.  The garden’s Director Dr. Robert Graham renamed it Poinsettia pulcherrima and introduced the plant into British gardens.  Till the end of his life, Buist was upset that Graham changed the name.  Nonetheless Buist put the plant on the market.

We owe Buist a debt of gratitude for making the Poinsettia available to the world.  Ever since it has become the essential Christmas decoration.

New Blog Post on Poinsettia

The National Garden Bureau is a trusted source for gardeners who have questions related to gardening and the landscape.

NGB just came out with an article on poinsettias. The title is: “Deck the Halls with Festive Flowers: New Ways to Display Poinsettias this Holiday Season.”

New ways to display your Poinsettias

Deck the Halls with Festive Flair: New Ways to Display Poinsettias This Holiday Season

Winter Gardening

Nothing says the holidays like a poinsettia. This year, try some new ways to display this festive plant.

Poinsettias are available in various colors including white, pink, hot pink, yellow, peach, marbled, and speckled.

Princettia Pink
Princettia Hot Pink
Princettia Pure Red
Princettia Sparling Rouge
Beginner Tip for the New Gardener

These colorful parts of the plant, often called flowers, are modified leaves called bracts.

The real flowers (cyathia) are small, yellow, and appear at the tip of the stem surrounded by the bract.

Display Your Poinsettias in New Places

Princettia Pure White

Place a plant on a side or serving table. Remove the foil and set the plant in a decorative container. 

Princettia Hot Pink

Try a hot pink poinsettia in a decorative pot to bring some POP to your holiday decor.

Princettia Poinsettias in a decorative serving tray

Add several different colors set in a serving tray, basket, or unique container.

Dress up Your Holiday Meals

Princettia Trio of Pure White Poinsettias

Place several potted poinsettias in the middle of the table. Princettia® poinsettias are compact and with their abundant vibrant flowers make the perfect table design. Your guests will be able to see across the table as they visit over dinner, enjoying the holiday ambience created by these beautiful plants.

Princettia Pure White Poinsettias as table display

Dress up each place setting with a cut poinsettia bloom. Simply cut the flowers off a potted poinsettia plant to the desired length. Place it in a floral water pick, the water-filled tubes used for cut flowers. Tuck the bloom into a napkin, set it in a small bud vase or add a ribbon to dress it up. They make great party favors for your guests.

Beginner Tip for the New Gardener

Poinsettia are NOT Poisonous.

It is a common belief that poinsettia plants are poisonous. But the fact is, they’re NOT. An Ohio State University study, conducted in 1971, debunked this myth. Researchers found the plant is not toxic, even in high doses.

Add Poinsettias to Winter Centerpieces

Princettia Pure White Winter Centerpieces
Princettia pure white

Princettia poinsettias are the perfect size to add to any winter dish garden. Choose three or more plants and add them to your large container. Incorporate greenery by bringing in fresh cut winter greens or add small green or blooming plants.

Beyond the Holidays…

Princettia Pink

Extend the look beyond Christmas by planting your poinsettias in pots that fit your home décor. Go rustic with wood or hammered or galvanized metal containers. Oblong shapes enhance this look. Place a few smaller plants next to each other in a wider container. Or go sleek and modern with simple ceramics. White really makes the pinks pop!

Poinsettias will last for months in your home so you can enjoy them through the winter months. To keep the plants happy, water once a week and keep away from drafty doorways. Find out more here about making your Poinsettia shine this season.

Proper Pronunciation

While enjoying your holidays, a discussion on the proper pronunciation of the plant’s name may arise. Some say Poinsett-a and don’t pronounce the second i. Others include it and say Poinsett-e-a? You will find both pronunciations in various dictionaries. In other words, either one is considered correct, so no one loses this debate.

These colorful plants are sure to brighten your spirits throughout the holiday season, so be sure to make some space for a few poinsettia displays.

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