Greenhouse Poinsettias Created with a Virus

Dec 19, 2014

The poinsettia, traditionally given as a gift around the holidays, is native to Northern Guatemala and Northern Mexico. 

wild poinsettia plants growing in the Canary Islands
Credit Wikimedia Commons

According to Assistant Professor Chris Currey, you can thank a virus for the version you'll find in stores this time of year in the U.S. 

"There's a virus in some poinsettias that induces growing, so when growers see plants with good leaves, they'll graft them to plants with the virus to grow more. Natural poinsettias are tall, spindly things." 

During this hour of Talk of Iowa, Charity Nebbe talks with Currey, who teaches at Iowa State University, and horticulture expert Richard Jauron about the poinsettia’s back story.  Currey says that the plant has deep roots as a holiday decoration. The Aztecs also used it for wintertime rituals.