Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Wildflower Wednesday: Wild Poinsettia

Wild poinsettia is happy in a container in my wildflower garden.

I'm happy it's contained, too. Not because I wanted to keep it in check, quite the opposite, I wanted to make sure it survived. It's dry under the canopy of shagbark hickories and oaks and containers are one of the best ways I know to take care of special need plants. In my dry shady garden this is a special need plant.
Euphorbia cyathophora never fails to get a compliment and a second look when it begins to bloom in late summer or early fall. That's also when the innermost parts of each bract turn a vibrant red giving rise to the common name of fire-on-the-mountain. Those colorful bracts aren't to be confused with petals or leaves, although, they serve a similar function, to attract pollinators and protect the flowers.
The pretty leafy bracts with their fiddle shape and red bases give the plant its common names
Its tiny flowers are greenish-yellow and produce large, three-lobed green ovaries. Flowers are found at the top of the stem and grouped in a cyathia, which forms a cup like structure. You have to get really close to see the tiny nectary glands at the base of the cyathia, but ants and small pollinators have no trouble finding them. The alternately arranged leaves can vary in shape from linear to oblong to fiddle like, and may be lobed and/or toothed! (There will be a quiz at the end of this post;) The stems are thin, but, sturdy and like other Euphorbia family members contain a milky sap that is toxic. 
This under appreciated native's flowers are a siren call to small pollinators like this green bee.
If you garden for wildlife, you'll love that small insects, bees, butterflies and moths are attracted to the nectar and/or yellow pollen found in those small flower clusters. If you want to see some lovely photos of pollinator visitors check out Florida Wildlife Garden Tails.
Plants have to have more than a pretty face to be asked to live in this garden and Euphorbia cyathophora meets that requirement....it also has pretty foliage and a pretty flower face.
Nectares are a part of this flower
You won't be surprised to know I think it's far superior to those over bred Christmas poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima). But, I see the flowers through my wildlife value screen!
I love this simple plant

I like Euphorbias. There are at least a dozen species in my neck of the woods. Some have more ornamental appeal like Euphorbia corollata, our Wildflower Wednesday star last August. Wooly Croton, Spotted Sandmat, Prairie Tea, Toothed Spurge and Cumberland Spurge, all Euphorbias that might show up in our gardens, aren't without their charms, but, most gardeners would call them weeds.

I don't know if you'll want to invite wild poinsettia into your garden, but, I hope you'll consider it a wildflower and not a weedy plant.


The particulars

Family: Euphorbiaceae (Spurge family)
Euphorbia cyathophora
Common names: dwarf poinsettia, fire-on-the-mountain, Mexican fire plant, painted leaf, painted poinsettia, painted spurge, painted-leaf spurge, poinsettia, summer poinsettia, wild poinsettia.
Type: Annual

Native range: AL, AR, AZ, CA, FL, GA, HI, IA, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MD, MN, MO, MS, NC, NE, NM, OH, OK, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, WI
Hardiness: Zones 4-10
Bloom: Late summer/early fall
Bloom Color:  Red-Orange  Chartreuse (Yellow-Green)
Soil: Moist to dry, well-drained, sandy soils
Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
Cultivation: sandy prairies, rocky glades, open or rocky woodlands, gravel bars along streams, fields, eroding banks, roadsides, areas along railroads, and waste areas. Wild Poinsettia prefers habitats with a history of disturbance.
Growth habit: 1-2+’ tall (possibly taller)
Propagation: Self-seeding-I let the seeds fall into the container, have not tried to collect them.  Comments: Wild poinsettia's interesting foliage provides a nice accent in a wildflower garden or native plant landscape. It looks best when massed and in bloom. It can be very aggressive as it readily self-seeds. Plant in container to control it.
CAUTION: The milky sap is toxic and can irritate the skin. Please keep children away from Euphorbias. Mammals don't browse it!

Welcome to Clay and Limestone's monthly celebration of wildflowers. Everyone knows that  I celebrate wildflowers every day, but, I wanted to have a big celebration every month, so that my wildflower loving friends from all over this great big beautiful planet could join in.

Wildflower Wednesday is about sharing wildflowers from your part of the world, they don't have to be in bloom. It doesn't matter if we sometimes show the same plants; how they grow and thrive in your garden is what matters most. I hope you join the celebration...It's always the fourth Wednesday of the month!

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. I am not familiar with this one, and was surprised when I saw on the map that it is native to Nebraska. Thank you for the information!

    1. If I have any luck collecting seeds I will share with you.

  2. I'm so glad you profiled this plant because I am not familiar with it. I have dry shade too and I love the idea of growing in pots to fill in spaces under the trees. I'll be looking for this one at our next native plant sale.

    1. Karin, If I successfully save seeds I will share lthem with you.

  3. This one is new to me. I especially love this sentence in your post: "But, I see the flowers through my wildlife value screen!" Great article.

    1. Thank you...I do view the world through that screen/filter!

  4. I have seen this plant in my garden both here (60 miles south of Nashville, Tennessee, USA) and at my previous home in Nashville. I marvelled that it looked like a poinsettia as I ripped it up. Not any more. When it returns, as I am sure it will, I will let it live and spread into the woods. I am already thinking of places it will like.

    Gail, thanks for the information and for hosting this linkup.

    Jeannie @ GetMeToTheCountry

  5. Great photos of a very interesting plant.
    At one time I had several Wild Poinsettia plants, but I cannot remember what happened to them.
    Happy Wildflower Wednesday!

  6. I know I have seen this before but not around here. It is a pretty plant.

  7. I like this plant. I'll have to consider a place appropriate for it. But I'm definitely adding Euphorbia corollata for next year. I fell in love with it recently. I hope it will like my garden.

  8. I only recently came across Wild Poinsettia on a plant list for gulf coast islands and marshes. It is very pretty. I hope it shows up in our market somewhere.

  9. No Poinsettia here, but two and counting Euphorbias. And the few more I have been introduced to on our botanical mountain hikes.

  10. I can see the resemblance to poinsettia. I don't think any euphorbias grow naturally around here.

  11. I had never heard of wild poinsettia before - and I can't believe it would be hardy here. I'll have to keep an eye out.

  12. I learned so much from this post. I didn't know about this plant - and I'm surprised to learn that it is native to Illinois!

  13. I had forgotten poinsettia is a euphorbia! I also had no idea that it grew wild in NC. Hmmm (rubs hands together)

  14. I’ve never heard of wild poinsettia, and didn’t make the connection that they were euphorbias!

  15. Great post! I've never heard of wild poinsettia before.

  16. I just got some & can't wait to get it started. It is beautiful. Hopefully it will do well . Thank you . Living in Va


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson