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A little history behind Christmas favorite poinsettias

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- 'Tis the season to set up those holiday decorations. And whether you say poin-setta or poin-set-ia, one thing is for sure: you'll see the red and green plant everywhere. But why?

"it is poinsett-i-a not poinsetta," said Scott Childs at Airlie Gardens.

Now that we've got that settled, on to tougher questions. Like why the red plant pops up during the holiday season year after year.

It all starts with Joel Poinset.

"He was the first US ambassador to Mexico and was also an amateur botanist and he discovered the poinsettia down in Mexico," Childs said.

It was the 1820s when he brought it back to cultivate in his own nursery in the Carolinas. But its ties to the holidays began with Catholicism and stories told in Mexico and South America.

"They had a story about a poor child that had nothing to bring to Jesus, so he picked some weeds on the side of the road and when he brought them to Jesus they opened up and they were poinsettias," Childs said.

As the plant became more and more popular, so did myths. The flower widely thought to be poisonous to kids, really is not deadly. To actually get sick from eating poinsettias, a 60-pound child would have to eat a pound and a half of leaves.

That doesn't mean you should start snacking on these plants. They're harmful to pets, and they taste awful, Childs said. So keep them off the table and in the garden. And keep them warm. When temperatures drop below 48 degrees at night, Airlie Gardens turns on heaters to keep its poinsettia display warm.

And the biggest mistake people make: watering them too often.

"You basically want to let them dry out before watering them," Childs said.

Another misconception: the red part of the plant is not the flower, those are actually the leaves. The flowers are the tiny bud-like part in the very center of each plant.

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