The Christmas season is here! I enjoy using plants and natural elements to decorate my home, and during the Christmas season that means poinsettias and Christmas greenery.
Poinsettias are a neat plant to grow, and they have an interesting history as the Christmas flower. Poinsettias are native to Mexico and were cultivated by the Aztecs for their bright colors. The flowers were used by Franciscan priests in the 17th century for nativity processions since it blooms near Christmas.
In 1828, Joel Roberts Poinsett, US Ambassador to Mexico, saw the brightly colored plants in bloom, and he sent some plants to his greenhouse in Charleston, North Carolina.
Poinsettias quickly gained in popularity and the plant was given the common name poinsettia in his honor.
Today, the poinsettia is the second largest selling potted flowering plant in the United States, according to USDA. Orchids are the biggest seller. It’s probably not a coincidence that the two top selling potted flowers seem to be the hardest to keep alive. Those of us who are stubborn optimists keep boosting sales!
The botanical name for poinsettia is Euphorbia pulcherrima, and it’s in the Euphorbiaceae (spurge) family. The brightly colored part of the poinsettia is a bract, not a flower. A bract is a modified leaf that attracts pollinators to the small flowers at the center of the plant. Active breeding of the poinsettia began in the 1950’s to develop cultivars to retain their leaves for a longer time. The breeding program also developed the beautiful variety of colors that we enjoy today: red, white, pink, purple, and yellow.
Poinsettias are a “short day plant,” which means it sets flowers in response to longer nights that we experience in the winter. Dark periods of 11 hours and 45 minutes will initiate flowers, but they have the most rapid flower set at 14 hours of darkness. They also prefer temperatures between 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit.
To find the best poinsettia, look for plants with dense, plentiful foliage all the way down to the stem. Poinsettias come in a variety of colors from the traditional red to white, pink, peach, yellow, or marbled. Look for plants with mature and fully colored bracts (the colorful part of the poinsettia).
Choose a plant with stiff stems and good bract and leaves. Avoid signs of wilting, breaking, or drooping. A poinsettia needs its space, so be careful about buying one that has been in a paper or plastic sleeve for long.
Poinsettias thrive in at least six hours of indirect light daily and temperatures between 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid placing the plants near drafts or heat sources.
Enjoy some bright, cheerful poinsettias in your home this Christmas time! For more lawn and garden information, contact Kate Whitney, Horticulture Extension Agent, at the Williamson County Extension Office at 512-943-3300.