December 12, 2016

poinsettiaThe poinsettia is the most popular holiday plant this time of year. They come in an array of different colors from pink, blue, purple, white, orange, even multi-colored but are traditionally red. You’ve seen these beautiful plants in every supermarket from November to December but they mysteriously disappear after New Year’s Day.

Many people toss them, knowing they will buy new ones next year. Others will attempt but fail to keep up with the 12 hours of dark that is required to alter the color on the bracts (bracts are the leaf-like structures that change colors). However, may fortunate and/or skilled gardeners will nurture their plants keeping them alive all year allowing them to grow to 10-feet tall, enjoying their colorful autumnal bloom.


Native to southern Mexico, poinsettias were originally used by the Aztecs for dye and medicinal purposes. The plant was introduced to the United States by Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Ambassador to Mexico, who brought the plant back to South Carolina in 1828. He began propagating and dispersing the plant amongst his friends. By 1836, the plant gained the common name poinsettia. In honor of Joel Poinsett, December 12th has been titled National Poinsettia Day, marking his passing and honoring his botanical achievements.


Poinsettias are not poisonous, however, those with latex allergies or sensitivities might want to avoid the sap, which contains latex (check it out, latex is a natural product). What you should be concerned about are pets and children. It is not edible, and those with cats, dogs, horses, cows and birds should proceed with caution when this plant is around their animals.


Don’t throw your poinsettia away. This seasonal plant can bloom until March, and then be saved until next November when it will bloom all over again.  Check out UF/IFAS for tips on how to care for your poinsettia through the holiday season and beyond.

Happy National Poinsettia Day!







Little Apple of Death

October 24, 2016

Manchineel Tree Hippomane mancinella, or as the Spanish called it, “Manzanita de la muerte” (little apple of death) is a deceiving fruit-bearing tree that can even inflict harm to anyone standing beneath its branches.

This tree is quite irritating all the way around not a single piece of this tree is safe. Burning the wood could cause noxious smoke, touching the tree could cause allergic dermatitis, the milky sap could cause blindness if it comes in contact with the eye, and ingesting the fruit may cause death.  The toxins Hipponmain A and Hippomanin B were discovered to have varying levels of toxicity depending on its maturity.

Despite the maturity level of the tree, it can still cause serious damage. A survivor noted that the fruit tasted sweet before it started to make their throat swell shut. Luckily, they were treated quickly and survived the incident.

Historically, parts of the tree have been used for various defense mechanisms. Native Americans are reported to have placed leaves of the tree into springs to poison those who drank from it, as well as covering the tips of their arrows with the milky sap to make wounds even more deadly. This is what was reported to have killed Juan Ponce de Leon, the Spanish explorer who discovered Florida. When he tried to settle in the Charlotte Harbor, the Calusa attacked him and his men with the poison-covered arrows. The wounds he incurred in battle led to his death in 1521.


Photo by Mica

This deadly tree can be found in the Caribbean, the Bahamas, Mexico, Central, northern South America and most importantly Florida.

Don’t worry too much, while this was once an abundant tree in Florida it is currently only found in the Cape Sable region of the Everglades National Park.

While this tree’s impact is dangerous, it’s important to note that it can be fatal. If you come across this tree please proceed with caution. Avoid the area at all costs and do not consume the fruit.

If you are interested in knowing more about the Manchineel tree and other deadly plants in a safe environment, visit the Florida Museum of Natural History and explore “Wicked Plants” (a touring exhibit here until January 2017).


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