Poinsettias have been associated with Christmas for a very long time. Franciscan friars in Mexico began incorporating this plant into celebrations in the 17th century. The star-shaped leaf pattern represents the Star of Bethlehem and the red color of the brachts symbolizes the blood of Christ in his crucifixion.
Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first ambassador to Mexico, introduced the plant to the US in 1829. He was a German botanist and the date of his death, Dec. 12, is National Poinsettia day in his honor. In its native habitat, the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is a shrub that averages 10 -15 feet high. The Ecke family later began developing grafting techniques in California to produce more compact, fuller plants that have a more pleasing appearance for the home. Today, over 100 varieties have been developed.
This plant has colorful brachts which are modified leaves that change color with periods of darkness followed by lots of bright daylight. The actual flowers do not have petals and are grouped within the small yellow structures in the center of the brachts. Once they have shed their pollen, typically the leaves and brachts will drop from the plant.
Best care practices for your plant include at least 6 hours of bright, indirect light. Ideal temperatures would be 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit in the day and 55 to 60 degrees at night. Keep your plant away from cold windows and drafts as well as heat vents. The soil should be kept evenly moist, but the plant should never sit in drained water. Do not let the plant dry out or wilt. Do not fertilize while it is in bloom.
Poinsettia toxicity is relatively mild. It is not recommended to place them in areas where pets can chew on them. Their sap contains latex and so people with allergies could experience a reaction. Otherwise, just wash the sap off the skin as soon as possible.
If you wish to try to maintain your plant for the following year, we recommend that you visit one of the university extension sites where you can find detailed information on how to go about that process. Be prepared to follow that process in detail for best results.
Along with the maintenance practices listed above, one of the keys to longer lasting beauty is purchasing a fresh plant to begin with. Your local growers can provide you with the freshest possible plant for your holiday enjoyment.
This article is sponsored by McNamara at Sand Point, which has 2 acres of production greenhouses, retail florist and gift shop, as well as retail garden center and wholesale plant business. Contact McNamara by calling 260-747-4131 or visit 4322 DeForest Ave, Ft. Wayne, IN 46809.
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