A Passion for Poinsettias

A Passion for Poinsettias

The poinsettia is the most popular plant sold during the Christmas season, and with good reason. A professionally grown poinsettia is lush and colorful…and as we approach the Winter Solstice, we need all the extravagant color we can find! Today’s post celebrates this lovely plant and answers the questions we commonly hear from our customers.

  • The colorful part of a poinsettia that we consider the flower is actually the bracts, or modified leaves. They are there to attract the attention of pollinators.
This photo shows the real flowers on this plant. You can see the tiny yellow stamens and yellow-edged nectaries that are filled with sweet nectar.
  • The bracts on a poinsettia develop their color in response to longer nights and shorter days. This is why they are so colorful in December.
  • Poinsettias are actually small trees that are native to Mexico, and they can grow up to twelve feet tall in the tropical climates where they thrive.
For many years there wasn’t a true white poinsettia available, only cream-colored varieties. Now, however, there are poinsettias with pure-white bracts. (The plant with the green and pink leaves is not a poinsettia – it’s a polka-dot plant.)
  • The first US Ambassador to Mexico, Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett, introduced the plant into the US by sending cuttings to his home in 1828. The plant’s botanic name is Euphorbia pulcherrima but the common name, poinsettia, came from Dr. Poinsett, who was an amateur botanist.
Red is the most popular color poinsettia. Contrary to a popular myth, these plants are NOT poisonous. Like other plants in the genus Euphorbia, when wounded the plants produce a milky sap, and this can irritate the skin of some individuals, causing a rash.
  • There are over 100 varieties of poinsettias that are currently sold.
This variety looks almost air-brushed!
  • To keep this plant looking its best through the holidays and beyond, avoid hot or cold drafts and place the plant in a very bright location where the temperature is between 60 and 70 degrees. If you buy a poinsettia on a cold day, do not leave it in the car while you do other shopping. Even a brief time below 50 degrees can cause this plant to wilt and die.
  • Do not let your poinsettia get so dry that it wilts, but don’t keep it swampy wet either. Aim for an even level of moisture. If you have decorative foil around the pot, poke holes in it so the water can drain into a saucer below.
Some poinsettias have red and white-splashed bracts.
  • If you want to try to keep your poinsettia from year to year, you will want to put it in a larger pot in the spring with fresh potting soil, and grow it outside over the summer. Fertilize regularly. Then in September, bring the plant indoors and grow in a sunny window, but put the plant in the closet at 4 PM every day and bring it back out to the window in the morning. They need to have 12 to 14 hours of absolute darkness every day in order to develop the color in their bracts.
Pink and white bracts have a softer look and compliment many interior color schemes.
Many people like the variegated leaf form because even after the colorful bracts fall off, the foliage is interesting. These can be added into mixed annual containers for the summer, where the large, variegated leaves contrast with other plants.
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