Sometimes it's just too hard to wait for until December for the beautiful Christmas poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) associated with the holiday season. Although not as splashy as its winter relative, painted leaf poinsettia (Euphorbia cyathophora) is an alternative for those who yearn for an early Christmas. Painted leaf poinsettia, also called wild poinsettia or fire-on-the-mountain, can be found growing in the wild throughout Missouri, but has become more common in the southern part of the state over the last few decades.
Painted leaf poinsettia is an annual plant that re-seeds itself. These poinsettia plants are two to three feet tall at maturity. Lower leaves are often unlobed, whereas the upper ones are fiddle-shaped. Near the shoot tips, the base of modified leaves or bracts turn red to red-orange in July through September. The red-tinged bracts surround the true flowers, known as cyathia. Painted leaf poinsettia plants are adaptable to different soil types and can be grown in full sun to part shade and. Bees, butterflies, and moths are attracted to the nectar and pollen of cyathia. Plants are seldom bothered by pests, but occasionally become infected with a Botrytis fungal pathogen during periods of prolonged rainfall or leaf wetness.
Seeds can be purchased from nurseries that specialize in wild plants or from several native plant societies. Alternatively, painted leaf poinsettia can be propagated by herbaceous stem cuttings or they can be transplanted from non-restricted sites. However, take care to avoid severing the tap root during digging.
Painted leaf poinsettia is an aggressive plant. Because it can become invasive, it is best to grow painted leaf poinsettia plants in a container or in a confined area. In the fall, a single seed develops in a three-lobed capsule. At maturity, capsules burst open, flinging seeds into the air and onto the soil. When rainfall occurs, seeds may be transported to new areas where plants can become established. Also, these poinsettia plants are allelopathic, releasing a compound into the soil that can inhibit the growth of some other plants.
Like the Christmas poinsettia, painted leaf poinsettia contains latex, which is a milky-white substance. Latex is an irritant when it contacts eyes or the mouth and can cause mild discomfort if consumed by humans or animals. For this reason, painted leaf poinsettia is considered a rabbit and deer-resistant plant.
Two other plants related to painted leaf poinsettia are flowering spurge (Euphorbia corollata) and snow-on the-mountain (Euphorbia marginata). Flowering spurge is a perennial plant that produces numerous small, white, five-petaled flowers from April to October. This plant is considered a weed in some settings, but it is also useful in attracting quail. These birds feed on flowering spurge seeds and also use the plant for cover when rearing their offspring. Snow-on the-mountain is an ornamental plant with its showy green foliage with a white leaf margin and small flowers. Like other Euphorbia species, these plants produce latex.
REVISED: July 6, 2021