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Poinsettia: The Christmas Plant

What plant comes to mind when you think of Christmas?  Most people might say a Christmas tree or mistletoe, but there is another plant that represents Christmas, the poinsettia.  Most people might not know the story of the poinsettia and how it was brought into Christmas.

Poinsettia

One single poinsettia with Christmas lights.The poinsettia, native to South America, was given the botanical name Euphorbia pulcherrima, which means “very beautiful”.  Its popular name honors Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, who introduced the plant here.   Not only do poinsettias make a great holiday decoration, they are also known to be given as gifts in late November through December.  The “flower” of the poinsettia is actually not a flower at all!  It is colorful leaves that are called bracts.  In addition to the traditional red, bracts can be pink, white, orange, and even purple.  Poinsettia plants come in many sizes and their bracts come in a wide range of shapes.

Varieties

Poinsettia nurseryPoinsettias are not an indoor plant, so if kept inside too long, the bracts would drop off.  Due to intensive breeding programs, new varieties have been introduced that can last longer indoors. Some new varieties that have been created involve color combinations and unusual blooming time.  The bracts of the Ice Punch come out red and turn white as they grow.  The color pattern of Peppermint Twist’s bracts varies from one plant to another, giving each plan a unique look.  The Advent Red variety is used mostly for landscaping and blooms as early as October.

Care

With proper care, your poinsettias may stay colorful for many months and retain their color if they are not exposed to freezing temperatures.  There are several things you can do to prolong the life of your poinsettia.

  • poinsettias in landscapeKeep your poinsettias away from drafts and chilly air.
  • Keep in well-lit area, but not in direct sunlight.  Direct sunlight or hot lights can dry out the plants.
  • Water plants when the surface of the soil is dry to the touch.
  • Place a saucer under the pot, and drain the saucer if water starts to collect in it.
  • It is important to keep the soil from getting soggy, too much water can kill a poinsettia.
  • Slightly humid air will help prolong the plants’ color and life span.
  • Consider misting the plants with a sprayer or placing them on gravel trays.
  • Do not fertilize your indoor poinsettias until you are ready to move them outside.  High levels of fertilizer will reduce the quality of the plant.

 

Planting Poinsettias

When the holidays are over, consider saving your poinsettias to plant in the landscape.  After the last frost, prune your poinsettia by removing the faded red bracts.  Pick a spot where it will receive full sun for most of the day.  They grow best in moist, well-drained, fertile soils. During the summer, it is best to pinch back your poinsettias several times.  This helps to create a full plant with lots of flower heads.

Poinsettias at Christmas

Christmas tree made of poinsettia plantsThere is an old Mexican legend about how poinsettias and Christmas come together, it goes like this: There was once a poor Mexican girl called Pepita who had no present to give the baby Jesus at the Christmas Eve Services.  As Pepita walked to the chapel, sadly, her cousin Pedro tried to cheer her up.  “Pepita”, he said, “I’m sure that event he smallest gift, given by someone who loves him will make Jesus happy.”  Pepita didn’t know what she could give, so she picked a small handful of weeds from the roadside and made them into a small bouquet.  She felt embarrassed because she could only give this small present to Jesus.  As she walked through the chapel to the altar, she remembered what Pedro said.  She began to feel better, knelt down and put the bouquet at the bottom of the nativity scene.  Suddenly, the bouquet of weeds burst into bright red flowers, and everyone who saw them were sure they had seen a miracle.  From that day on, the bright red flowers were known as the “Flores de Noche Buena”, or “Flowers of the Holy Night”.  The shape of the poinsettia flower and leaves are sometimes thought as a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem, which led the wise men to Jesus.  The red colored leaves symbolize the blood of Christ.  The white leaves represent His purity.

Chris Vann- Extension Agent- Agriculture/4-H

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