Poinsettias-the plants of the holiday season

Holiday shopping is in full gear, Christmas parties and church events fill our calendars as we all proceed towards Christmas Day. There are many plants and floral traditions that have became important parts of this month long holiday celebration to remember the birth of the Christ child. Over the centuries the Christmas tree, Christmas wreaths, garlands and greens have become an important part of the Christmas celebration.

In more recent years the Norfolk Island pine, Christmas cactus and the poinsettia have become key parts of our holiday experience. The poinsettia, native to Mexico, was “discovered” by our U.S. Ambassador Joel Poinsett in his travels around Mexico in 1825.  He took the first stem cuttings to send back to the United States to propagate. The poinsettia was used as a seasonal bedding plant in yards and on estates as growers learned how to grow the plant and began breeding efforts. By the early 1900’s key growers like the Ecke family began to grow them in greenhouses, learned they needed short days to bloom and bred more varieties. It is only in the last century that poinsettias have become the Christmas flower.

There are hundreds of varieties of poinsettias, most in tones of the traditional red but also now available in many shades of white, pink and marbled. The modern varieties will stay colorful for many weeks, even months, if placed in good light and watered correctly. Let the soil get lightly dry before you water and then water well. They don’t like to stand in water or to get too dry as either watering extreme can cause them to drop leaves more quickly. They will last longer if not in cold or drafty areas.

This friday is National Poinsettia Day and if you haven’t selected your poinsettia yet this is a good time to buy one or several to decorate your home or business. Care for them correctly and you may be able to keep the colorful bracts showy until March or April of next year and then you could grow them outside next spring and summer and try to force them into flower indoors next fall. They are available from little pixie style plants in 3” or 4” pots to the popular 6” and 8” pot size plants and even in giant tubs, grown as trees and in hanging baskets. Now is the time to select some poinsettias, Christmas trees and wreaths to set a happy and cheerful holiday tone in your home. I think we can all really use the happiness and good cheer this year.

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