Christmas in July: Wild Poinsettia

This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 14, 2015 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments and find working links to other stories.

Paintedleaf (Poinsettia cyathophora; synonym: Euphorbia cyathophora)
Paintedleaf (Poinsettia cyathophora; synonym: Euphorbia cyathophora)

Next to the patio I have a patch of Paintedleaf a.k.a. Fire-On-The-Mountain a.k.a. Wild Poinsettia (Poinsettia cyathophora;  synonym: Euphorbia cyathophora).  This area gets morning sun and begins to move into the shadow of the carport in early afternoon.  It is amazing the amount of activity that takes place each day at this beautiful native plant in my garden.

Flowers are small and greenish yellow. The red is coloring on a leaf bract
Flowers are small and greenish yellow. The red is coloring on a leaf bract

Last evening I was greeted by a hummingbird that stopped for a sip of nectar from this pretty bedding plant.  I’m too slow to have gotten a photo since the hummingbird and I both were quite surprised by our close encounter.  Birdie didn’t stick around very long once it noticed this human with the camera in hand.

It looks great as a mass bedding plant
It looks great as a mass bedding plant

Wild Poinsettia, a native cousin to the exotic species sold at Christmas-time is a member of the spurge family (EUPHORBIACEAE). “The colorful and showy “flower” is actually a cluster of modified leaves called bracts. The true flowers are small and clustered in the centers of the bracts.”

Loved by halictid bees
Loved by halictid bees
male Agapostemon splendens stops by for a drink
male Agapostemon splendens stops by for a drink

It has a wide native range within the United States. Wild Poinsettia thrives in “full or partial sun, moist to dry-mesic conditions, and a rather infertile soil containing sand, gravel, or rocky material.”

A variety of wasps visit daily
A variety of wasps visit daily
Mason wasps don’t mind sharing with pesty stink bug species
Mason wasps don’t mind sharing with pesty stink bug species
Predatory Stink bugs such as this Spined Soldier Bug (Podisus maculiventris) will hopefully take care of any pest species of stinkers.
Predatory Stink bugs such as this Spined Soldier Bug (Podisus maculiventris) will hopefully take care of any pest species of stinkers.
Black Stink Bug (Proxys punctulatus) eats plants but also insects so damage is plant damage is minimal
Black Stink Bug (Proxys punctulatus) eats plants but also insects so damage is plant damage is minimal

Propagate from seed or herbaceous stem cuttings and it readily self-seeds. It is for the most part an annual but may be aggressive in certain situations.  “Mature plants can eject seeds up to three feet from the parent by a mechanism triggered by drying of the capsule.” Source: FNPS Spring 1985 Palmetto

miniscule diptera pollinators visit the cups of flowers
miniscule diptera pollinators visit the cups of flowers
As do some of their medium size cousins. Great little pollinators
As do some of their medium size cousins. Great little pollinators

I have it popping up here and there which is fine in my natural landscape setting since it has a healthy competition from the numerous native plants that call my place home.  No one plant has the upper hand, although I often have to remind the blackberry (Rubus spp.) with a clip and a tug to keep it in check.

I love the bright coloring against the white brick around the base of the house
I love the bright coloring against the white brick around the base of the house

The second area that the Wild Poinsettia has chosen is on the West side of the house over the septic system.  This area gets only afternoon sun.  The plant looks pretty against the white brick skirting around the house.   I rarely find it elsewhere and if it does encroach on an out-of-bounds area, it is easily weeded out by a gentle tug.

spiders such as this male Jumping Spider (Hentzia palmarum) know there is sure to be lots of food on this pollinator magnet
spiders such as this male Jumping Spider (Hentzia palmarum) know there is sure to be lots of food on this pollinator magnet

Wild Poinsettia can be incorporated into a green roof. One major caveat: the milky sap may cause skin irritation in some people so handle with care.

And a Green Lynx Spider (Peucetia viridans) waits too.
And a Green Lynx Spider (Peucetia viridans) waits too.

It is a larval host for the Ello Sphinx Moth Caterpillars and leafroller moths (Platynota spp.)   I can’t say that I’ve ever seen a caterpillar chewing, but I have seen adult moths flying so it seems that plant damage is minimal.

A male Red and Black Mason Wasp (Pachodynerus sp.)
A male Red and Black Mason Wasp (Pachodynerus sp.)

As you can see from the photos, it also provides habitat and nourishment for wide range of pollinators and insect predators that are sure to draw in birds and others up the food chain.

Definitely a worthwhile addition to your Native Plant and Wildlife Garden.

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