By Ginger Easton Smith
Release date: December 16, 2020
It is the season of the beautiful poinsettia which ‘blooms’ at this time of year where it grows naturally. Poinsettia is a tropical plant which forms a spectacular bush,10-15 feet tall, in tropical parts of the world.
It is native to Mexico and was called Cuetlaxochitl by the Aztecs, who used it medicinally and as a dye in the 14-16th centuries. Much later, it was given the botanical name, Euphorbia pulcherrima, which means “very beautiful”, by a German botanist enchanted by its bright colors. The name poinsettia is in honor of Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, appointed by President John Quincy Adams in the 1820’s. He collected some cuttings from a bush growing on the roadside and brought them to the United States.
Indoors, poinsettias need bright light and regular (but not too frequent) watering. Find a spot that is away from the heater (or air conditioning, depending on the day) vent and away from drafts from open windows or doors. Ideally, place it near a window where it gets indirect light, or even a couple hours a day of direct light. Do not put it so close that the leaves are touching the window.
The trickiest thing, to me, is watering and I think a lot of that results from poinsettias being in a foil pot wrap. If you want to keep the foil, then be sure to poke some holes in it so the pot can drain. Standing water is most plants’ worst enemy.
Water thoroughly each time you water, wetting all the soil in the pot; do not water again until the soil is dry about half an inch down. If leaves are drooping or falling, it could be due to too much water, or not enough water, but if they are falling and the soil is wet – too much (actually too frequent) water is the likeliest cause. Insufficient light can also contribute to leaf drop.
Poinsettias are often thought of as poisonous, but actually are not. Extensive studies at Ohio State University have proven this. However, their milky sap, typical of the plants in the Euphorbia family, can cause skin irritation for some people, particularly those with latex allergies. Although it is not poisonous, it is still a good idea to keep young children, puppies and kittens away from poinsettia plants. Other fairly common plants in the Euphorbia family are Crown of Thorns, crotons, chenille plant, cassava, castor bean, and jatropha.
The colored (besides green) part of the plant that we often refer to as flowers or blooms, are actually modified leaves called bracts; there are flowers–they are small, yellow and in the center of each cluster of colorful bracts. Once the flowers shed their pollen, the leaves and bracts begin to drop off the plant.
More than 100 varieties of poinsettias, of varying bract colors and patterns, sizes, and forms have been developed by breeders. The most popular is still red, but other colors such as white, pink – light and dark, burgundy, multiple colors in speckled or spotted patterns, and more are readily available.
Getting a poinsettia to “re-bloom” can be very tricky as it has to have complete darkness from 5:00 pm to 8:00 am for several months. Look into it and try it if you are so inclined, or just enjoy your plant while it is beautiful and get another one to appreciate next year.