The Poinsettia: The Most Beautiful, Misunderstood Holiday Plantby Brian Wheat on November 27, 2011 at 10:21 am
Year after year, customers say they would love to get a poinsettia but fear “they are poisonous … and I have kids and pets.” THIS CLAIM IS FALSE. The wonderful Christmas plant (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is the most widely tested consumer plant on the market today, and the research has proven the poinsettia is NOT toxic.
Now, I know your mom said, “she heard” they are poisonous. Sorry, mom, a 1971 study at Ohio State University first debunked the rumor. Since then, the Flower of the Holy Night has been under the magnifying glass, and every time, the poinsettia has been proven safe. Click here for research on the poinsettia. Now that we got that settled, let me share with you some history, fun facts, and care and handling advice so you can better appreciate your poinsettia.
The Aztecs cultivated the poinsettia in Mexico. They used the bracts (modified leaves around the flower) for dyes, and the latex to counteract fever. The plant also played a part in midwinter celebrations. During the 17th century, Franciscan priests near Taxco observed the plant blooming during the Christmas season. They incorporated the plant into Nativity processions.
A botanist and first U.S. minister to Mexico, Joel R. Poinsett, sent some plants home to South Carolina as holiday gifts for friends in 1828. An Act of Congress established December 12 as National Poinsettia Day; the date honors the death of Poinsett.
Today, about 70 percent of all the flowering poinsettias in the United States and more than 50 percent worldwide get their start at the Paul Ecke Ranch in Encinitas, Calif. A nationally known horticultural family, the Ecke’s are the true pioneers developing potted and cut-flower cultivars of this modern day plant. Their breeding programs focused on stronger stems, leaf and bract retention, multiple branching, earlier blooming and color variations — better quality plants for all of us to enjoy. Red is the most common, but many colors are now available.
Selecting the Perfect Poinsettia
Poinsettias do well in our homes, and new colors and new forms are developed every year. From mini to topiary trees, hanging baskets, centerpiece styles and standard pot sizes of 4”, 6”, 8”, 10” and 12”, you’ll find what suits your needs at your local florist.
Here is what to look for when selecting poinsettias:
- Choose plants with dark green, healthy looking leaves and bright (un-faded) bracts.
- The little yellow flower (cyathia) in the middle of a bract should be tight and show a little color.
- And most important, if the outside temperature is below 40 degrees, the plant should be wrapped or sleeved.
Caring for Poinsettias
Poinsettias thrive on indirect, natural daylight, at least six hours a day. Protect plants from cold drafts or excessive heat. Keep moderately moist, but never allow to sit in water. No need to fertilize while in bloom, but later in March, use a balanced all-purpose plant food monthly. Re-flowering is challenging, but a fun project. My friend Dr. Steven E. Newman and B.E. Edmunds at Colorado State University provide re-flowering details in “Poinsettias Number 7.412.”
Poinsettias are wonderful plants to enjoy at home, in the office and in floral arrangements. It is a perfect gift for family and friends as it conveys the Christmas spirit.
My other favorite holiday plants are the amazing Christmas Cactus, the bulbs of Amaryllis and fragrant paper white narcissus. From bright red and white cyclamen to the little pine/spruce trees adorned with bows and ornaments, plants make the perfect holiday gift that last well into the New Year.
What are your favorite holiday plants?