The one thing that always heralds the arrival of the festive season for me is when we start receiving Poinsettias here at the nursery. Poinsettias are prefect for bringing Christmas into your home with their long lasting red bracts that work great in any décor setting. They also make the ideal living gift for that person that you never know what to get for Christmas.
Poinsettias are native to southern Mexico where the Aztecs had numerous uses for them. There is a sweet little legend in Mexico which explains how Christmas and poinsettias are linked. In a tiny village in Mexico, it was customary on Christmas Eve to take gifts to the church and place them before the manger. One Christmas Eve there was a small boy standing in front of the church door. How he wished he could enter the church and present a gift to Jesus but he was too poor. He had nothing to give, “I can at least pray” he thought to himself. He knelt silently outside the church window. When he stood up, he was amazed when he saw a beautiful plant with scarlet leaves and a yellow flower in the center in the spot where he had knelt. Realizing it was a miracle he carefully plucked it and took it into the church. As he placed the beautiful flower before the manger, he whispered, “This is my precious gift.”
Poinsettias are named after an Ambassador to Mexico, Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett, who brought it to the states, where the flower became known as the Poinsettia. Today Poinsettias are the best selling potted plant in the US and Canada. What we tend to think of as their flowers are actually modified leaves called coloured bracts whilst the real flowers are the tiny yellow specks in the middle of the bracts. The colours of the bracts are created through “photoperiodism” meaning that they require darkness (12hours at a time for at least 5 days in a row) to change colour. Their natural flowering time is during winter thus growers in South Africa manipulate the amount of light they receive to get them to flower during December. They are also sprayed with dwarfing agent to promote a more compact plant. Contrary to popular belief Poinsettias are not poisonous. Extensive studies have been done in this regard, for more info click on this link.
Poinsettias require bright light and can even tolerate a bit of direct sunlight and are actually outdoor plants, but in areas that get frost they are used as indoor or patio plants. Keep them at room temperature and away from draughts. During the growing and flowering seasons they must be kept moist, but be careful not to overwater these plants, as the leaves tend to fall off if the soil is too wet. Afterwards they need a few weeks rest with less water. Mist spraying with tepid water will improve humidity in warm dry conditions. Feed your Poinsettia every fortnight with a liquid plant food like Seagro or Multisol K.
So whether you’re looking for that perfect gift or just want to add some colour to you Christmas this, Poinsettias are sure to exceed your expectations.