One plant that always comes to mind during the holiday season is the poinsettia.
Its colorful foliage brightens up many homes, and works appropriately with Christmas decorations. Their presence during the cool months gives the impression that it may be native to cooler climates, but the Poinsettia is actually native to Mexico. Like us, the Aztec Indians were also fans of this plant for decorative use. The bright colors that we enjoy are not leaves, but “bracts” that form like a Bougainvillea.
The poinsettia, Euphorbia pulcherrima, comes from the Euphorbia family, which is the 4th largest group of flowering plants. The pesky spurges that we find growing in garden beds belong to this family, along with ornamental plants like the crown of thorns. There is a lesser known Poinsettia, Euphorbia heterophylla, which is native to Florida. It is commonly known as the wild or painted Poinsettia. There are plants in the Euphorbia family that are toxic. Some of them, like the spurges, contain latex in the sap. Fortunately, the Poinsettia does not have toxic properties.
To care for the Poinsettia, place the plant in indirect sunlight for 6 hours each day, and keep the soil moist. After the holidays you may elect to incorporate it into your landscape. Wait to do this until the danger of frost has passed. Choose a site that allows partial shade and no light in the evenings, so avoid a spot near your lighted walk-way. Poinsettias require long, dark nights in order to initiate new buds. Fertilization won’t be necessary until early spring. Until then, check your soil pH (or bring a sample by to us) to make sure it is in the preferred range of 5.5-7.0.
Give your local extension office a call if you need more tips for this plant. Happy holidays!