Field of Science

Friday Fabulous Flower - Is poinsettia a real flower?

'Tis Christmas eve, and all through the house the Phactors are fixing a dinner for friends and family.  Unfortunately not much is blooming to mention, but while stopping by his favorite garden shoppe, an old favorite question popped up.  A woman asked, "Is this [referencing a poinsettia] a real flower?"  As opposed to being artificial, this is surely a real plant. But if she was asking, is the attractive part of this plant a flower?  Then the answer is no.  Poinsettias have large, colorful bracts, leaves associated with flowers, and usually flowers are present, and they are a bit hard to explain and often not noticed. The plants have "male" pollen flowers, and "female flowers", unisexual flowers, and they are clustered together variously giving the superficial appearance of bisexual flowers, but they lack the usual attractive petals.  The most conspicuous floral parts are the oblong yellow nectaries.  Male flowers here have anthers with yellow pollen showing. Female flowers have a conspicuous rounded ovary with red style/stigma branches at the top.  Quite a few flowers can be found here at the center of just one "bloom" surrounded by a couple of dozen bracts.  So yes, these are real flowers, just maybe not what you were thinking.  Here's a link to a past FFF about another Euphorbia that looks even more like a flower.
The mini-lecture was ended and another woman said, "I wouldn't have such a poisonous plant in my house." What crap!  Poinsettias are in the spurge family, and many plants in this family are charmingly toxic, but not this one. You'd have to eat every red leaf in sight to maybe get a toxic dose.  Unlikely.  Poinsettia's toxicity however is a quite common myth about the plant.  No need to worry about having one around the house.  She still didn't buy one, but probably because she didn't know who she was talking with.

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