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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.