Colorful Stars of Christmas
the season for holiday preparations--cooking,
shopping, wrapping, and decorating. One of the
traditional favorite symbols of Christmas cheer is
available at your local florist right now: the
popular Poinsettia plant, with colorful, star-shaped
blooms that last well beyond the holiday season.
Poinsettias are members of the Euphorbia family, a
diverse group of mostly succulent plants which
includes the Crown-of-Thorns, the Pencil Cactus, and
the Candelabra Trees of Africa. Poinsettias
themselves are native to Mexico, where, in 1828,
they were discovered growing by Joel Roberts
Poinsett, who was the first U.S. Ambassador to
Mexico and who had a strong interest in botany.
Poinsett brought plants back to grow in his own
greenhouses in South Carolina, propagated them, and
eventually shared some with his friends and
nurserymen in the area. They were first sold
commercially in 1836, and the rest is history.
Incidentally, contrary to common mythology,
Poinsettias are not poisonous.
It's interesting to note that the colorful parts of
the Poinsettia which we call "flowers" are not
really flowers at all. They are actually "bracts":
modified leaves which serve to call attention to the
small and insignificant true flowers (the little
yellow nubs in the centers). These bracts may stay
colorful well into the spring if the Poinsettia is
given proper care. The plants will do well if they
receive at least 4 to 6 hours of bright, indirect
sunlight each day. Keep the plants warm (above 68
degrees Fahrenheit) and away from drafts or chilly
windows. Water the plants when the top inch of the
soil is dry to the touch, and never allow them to
sit in water. Fertilize every two weeks with a
balanced houseplant fertilizer. In the late spring,
after danger of frost has passed, Poinsettias may be
cut back to around 6 inches from the top of the pot
and placed outside in the garden. Repot them into a
rich, organic and well-drained soil, and continue
fertilizing until the end of summer.
With a little bit of effort, Poinsettias may be
re-bloomed the following year. Before night
temperatures fall below 50 degrees, bring the plant
back indoors. Maintain regular watering, but
discontinue fertilizing. Poinsettias are so-called
"short day" plants, meaning that the bloom cycle is
initiated only after the night time period of
darkness is at least 14 hours long. So, to ensure
flowers for Christmas, place plants in a closet,
under a box, or in a dark corner of a basement or
storage room, from late afternoon until morning,
beginning the latter part of September through the
first part of November. During this time, the light
from even a single bulb at night can interrupt the
bloom cycle. By day, keep the plants in their normal
warm, sunny location.
Poinsettias have been extensively hybridized, with
new cultivars appearing almost every year, so that
today we have a wide range of choices beyond the
traditional red or white. For example, "Marblestar"
is a variety with large, crisp, pointed bracts which
are a deep coral pink with ivory edges. "Jinglebell"
has pink flecks on a red background. "Monet"
features soft bracts ranging through shades of peach
to pink and speckled with burgundy. The "Heirloom"
series displays red, pink, or peach bracts atop
green foliage with white margins. In the past couple
of years, we've seen the appearance of "Winter
Rose", a dwarf hybrid with small, dark red, ruffled
bracts, and "Plum Pudding" with dainty, amethyst
Your professional florist can provide you with these
and other colorful choices, perfect for gift-giving
or for brightening up your own home for the
holidays. Let a Poinsettia plant be the star of your
Christmas decorating scheme!