Plant of the Week - Poinsettia

Next to the Christmas tree, our plant pick is the second most recognized Holiday plant. At one time (and its still close), there were more of these grown as a potted plant than any other plant in the U.S., used for both the holidays and for landscaping or specimen plants in warmer zones (10-12). And on top of all of that, it has a really great history, and how it became what it is today. Our plant pick is Euphorbia pulcherrima (literally ‘the most beautiful Euphorbia’), also known as ‘Flor de Noche Buena’ or ‘Flores de Noche Buena’ (Flower of Christmas Eve or Flower of the Holy Night), also called ‘Flame Leaf’ in central America, and ‘Cuetlaxochitle’ by the Aztecs, but most commonly known to you and me as the Christmas Poinsettia.


History has it that a young Mexican child had no gift to present the Christ Child at Christmas Eve services, and was saddened.  The child gathered a handful of common weeds, put them in a bouquet, and humbly presented them at the foot of the nativity scene.  Some laughed at the weeds, but when she presented them, the bouquet of weeds burst into blooms of brilliant red, and all who saw this were certain they had witnessed a Christmas miracle.  From that point on, the Flores de Noche Buena bloomed each year during the Christmas season, thus the legend of the Poinsettia.  Of course, it got its name from Joel Poinsett (1800’s), the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, who brought this plant back to the U.S. and began growing and selling it, as well as friends John Bartram and Robert Buist.  Supposedly scholar Wm. Prescott named the plant Poinsettia.  But in the early 1900’s, it was John Ecke and family who began grafting and breeding better, fuller, sturdier and different colored Poinsettias, and began marketing the plant as a Holiday favorite.  Thanks to the Ecke family (holding over 500 plant patents) for making the Poinsettia the holiday favorite that it is!   Ps…Dec 12 is National Poinsettia Day – the date of Joel Poinsett’s death in 1851.


One of the Holiday’s most popular indoor plants, the Poinsettia provides a wonderful array of colors not only throughout the Holiday season, but well into the winter season.  Here’s how to get the most from your poinsettia:  During the Holiday Season    -Your poinsettia will be properly wrapped, covered and protected for you to transport it home from our garden stores.  Do remember that extended exposure to low temperatures can damage the bracts and leaves.  -Once home, carefully unwrap your poinsettia, place in a well-lit area, with temperatures around 60 to 70 degrees.  Warmer temperatures will shorten its life.  Keep the plant away from warm or cold drafts, away from open doors and away from cold windows.  -Poinsettias require evenly moist soils, but not soggy wet conditions.  Water thoroughly when the soil surface feels dry, let the soil dry a bit, then water again.  Note: Always remove the decorative pot covers when watering; do not allow water to sit inside the cover, or in saucers below the pot.   -It is not necessary to fertilize the plant while in ‘bloom’, but do feed monthly if you keep the plant after the Holiday season.  Miracle Gro works great!        After the Holiday Season  -Maintain the above mentioned care information, feeding the poinsettia monthly.  The goal is to grow it as a houseplant, keeping it as healthy as possible.  It may lose a few leaves here and there, but that is to be expected.   -When the bracts lose their aesthetic appeal (or late spring, whichever comes first), cut the poinsettia back to about 6-8 inches or so above the soil.  Repot into the next sized container, and when frost is past, move the plant outside to enjoy the summer in a bright (not full sun) location.  Water, and feed as needed.  You may want to pinch your plant once or twice throughout the summer to keep it compact and full.  Do this lastly around the first of September.  Move indoors before the threat of cold weather or frosts, providing the same location indoors as during the holidays. 

-Poinsettias are short day plants, which means they ‘flower’ about 8 to 10 weeks after the daylight shortens to 10 to 12 hours.  To have your poinsettia in color for the Holidays, keep it in complete darkness (‘complete’ meaning no lights on whatsoever) for about 14 hours (5:00pm to 8:00am) from October 1st until Thanksgiving.  Remember, your poinsettia will still need bright light during the day, monthly feedings until December, and watered as needed.*Research conducted at The Ohio State University and other institutions has proved that the old theory “poinsettias are deathly poisonous to humans” is FALSE.  And although recent studies have” suggested” the same for most home pets, if you are uncomfortable / unsure and do not want to take a chance, place your poinsettias out of your pet’s reach.  It’s the sap that can cause rash or irritation.  And the leaves have a very distinct bitter flavor.