IMG_0717As the holidays approach we start thinking of decorating, not only the outside of our homes, but the interior as well. The tradition of reds and greens, accented with gold and silver, bring back fond memories of Christmases past and the excitement of making new ones. Growing up in Central Illinois on a farm, we always had a seven-foot fresh-cut fragrant pine with big multi-colored bulbs. We adorned our tree with lots of handmade ornaments, a few store bought glass ones, popcorn strings, colorful paper chains, and tinsel — lots of shiny silver tinsel. My Mom would hang a nice fresh wreath on the front door, and garland on the stair banister. And there were always red poinsettias.

On the red and white checkered tablecloth that covered the kitchen table, there was always a welcoming treat of mixed nuts in the shell — walnuts, almonds, hazelnut and Brazil nuts — in a festive bowl, accompanied with an old-school steel nutcracker to wrestle them open. Peppermint candy canes and old-fashioned mixed hard candy were a daily holiday treat. The smells of turkey, ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie and cherry cobbler wafted throughout the old farm house. It was almost like a Norman Rockwell scene waiting to be painted. I remember those days fondly, as a child, with my four brothers and sisters anticipating the arrival of Santa.

Okay, enough childhood memories of the sixties and my Mom’s red poinsettias. Fast forward 50-plus years, to my poinsettias of today: New shades, styles and textures of Christmases to come.

IMG_0726There are hundreds of new varieties to choose from since Joel Poinsett, a physician and botanist, and first United States Ambassador to Mexico, saw a Euphorbia pulcherrima growing in a tropical Mexican forest around 1825. He brought back cuttings to his South Carolina home to grow and share with family, friends and colleagues, starting the poinsettia as a holiday classic.  Today, some new varieties have ruffled bracts, scalloped and wavy edges, orange and fall hues, soft shades of pinks, and even yellow bracts. Some varieties have the markings of a Monet painting, while others look like snow glitter has landed on them. White varieties are whiter than ever and peach-types are peachier than ever.

Most folks still prefer the red, and there are a lot of reds to choose from. Whatever color, size and shape you desire, here are a few tips to help you get the best and healthiest:

  1. Choose a plant that’s most vibrant in color. Avoid plants with too much green around the bracts. Bracts or modified leaves are the colored portions around the yellow flowers, the cyathia, in the center. Rich green foliage is vital, no yellow, brown or curled lower leaves.
  2. Look for proper proportion of plant height and shape. Its balance to the pot size will make its appearance pleasing and stable.
  3. Select stiff stems with little signs of breakage or drooping.IMG_0716
  4. Place your plant in indirect sunlight for at least six hours a day and keep it happy at 65-70 degrees. Water when the soil feels dry to the touch and never let it sit in water, always discard drainage away.
  5. Protect the plant when it travels outside with a trash bag or plant sleeve to prevent any cold damage.
  6. Keep cold drafts, as well as heat drafts from your plant. They’re more than a little sensitive when it comes to anything below 60 degrees. They love good air circulation.
  7. No need to fertilize your plant when it’s in bloom at the holidays.

And last but not least…they are NOT poisonous. I know your Mom (and mine) said they were, but it’s an old wives’ tale, proven false by Ohio State University and other independent institution studies. See more on the safety of the poinsettia here.

So, enjoy your holiday season and its wonderful array of plants and flowers. Make some new memories with your family, plant some paperwhites, grow and flower an amaryllis, give a Christmas cactus as a gift. It will all add to the memories of the symbols of the season.

What is your favorite holiday plant?