The Poinsettia a Favorite Flower of Christmas

Published 1:25 pm Wednesday, December 13, 2017

No flower immediately brings Christmas to mind more than the Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima.)

Most people do not know that the Poinsettia is a shrub or small tree. Its colored bracts are actually leaves and are often mistaken for flower petals because of their groupings and color. The flowers (cyathia) of the Poinsettia are the tiny yellow pollen covered structures you find clustered in the middle of the bracts (leaves.) It is interesting to note that they do not attract pollinators.

The Poinsettia is indigenous to Mexico and was introduced to the U.S. in 1825 by Joel Roberts Poinsett, a botanist, physician and the first United States Minister to Mexico.

There are many religious and traditional Christmas associations with the poinsettia around the world. My favorite one is from 16th century Mexico. Legend tells of a young child too poor to provide a gift in celebration of Jesus’ birthday and was instructed by an angel to leave weeds picked from the roadside in front of the church altar. The child did so and overnight crimson blooms sprouted from the weeds and became poinsettias.

To this day the Poinsettia is a very popular plant used to decorate with during Christmas in the United States, Mexico, Guatemala and Hungary.

There are more than 100 cultivated varieties of the poinsettia and it is commonly grown as an indoor plant outside of its natural environment. Today you can find poinsettia’s in many colors, red being the most popular, white, pink, burgundy and some are also are marbled or speckled.

The sap of the Poinsettia can be irritating, especially to people with latex sensitivities. Although many people believe the plant to be poisonous, there have been many studies done that have concluded otherwise and this topic is still up for debate. My opinion is that it would be best to keep this plant out of the reach of small children and pets.

If you purchase a Poinsettia this Christmas here are some suggestions to help you choose the healthiest plant possible. Check to make sure the plant has dark green foliage all the way down to the soil line. Do not choose plants with yellowed leaves. The plant should be two and one half times taller than the diameter of the container it is in. Check the soil if it is wet and the plant is droopy it may have root rot. Check the undersides of the foliage to make sure there are no aphids or whiteflies present. Try to find a plant that’s flowers (cyathia) are young with green or red tips. Plants whose flowers are pollen covered and yellow will drop their bracts sooner and will have a shorter life span.

Take care to cover your Poinsettia while transporting, any exposure to low temperatures will damage the plant. Place in a spot where it will get at least six hours of in-direct bright sunlight, away from cold windows and any warm or cold drafts. Ideally they like daytime temperatures of 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit and nighttime temperature around 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Higher night time temperatures will shorten the Poinsettias life.

Check the soil daily and make sure the container your plant is in has drainage holes in the bottom. They do not like to sit in water. Water only when the soil is dry.

Poinsettias are the bestselling potted plant in the US and Canada. They contribute over 250 million retail dollars to the US economy.

Dec. 12 is Poinsettia Day and marks the death of Joel Roberts Poinsett in 1851.

Dawn Conrad is a columnist for The Kenbridge-Victoria Dispatch. She can be reached at conrad.gardenmuse@ or Conrad.gardenmuse.