Understanding the Poinsettia

red-poinsettia

The often grey days of December seem greyer following the seasonal splendor of fall colors. To brighten our homes and businesses, potted poinsettias can provide a splash of color that lasts for several weeks. With some care, the poinsettia’s bright red, pink, white, or even plum colored flower bracts will remain healthy past the holiday season.

Poinsettia History

Poinsettias are native to the southern highlands of Mexico and Guatemala where they grow as large shrubs or trees. Their botanical name euphorbia pulcherrima means “most beautiful.” The common name “poinsettia” stems from Joel Poinsett, the United States’ first ambassador to Mexico. Joel Poinsett had a love for botany. In 1825, he brought several plants to his South Carolina home and shared them with friends and botanical gardens. Through the efforts of the Eche family, the poinsettia became widely popular as a potted plant.

Despite the common misconception, the poinsettia is not poisonous. Those with latex allergies should note that the veins of the plant contain a white latex fluid. Exposure to this mildly toxic sap can be irritating, causing a rash or itch, but will not poison you or your pet.

Learn more about poinsettias from Illinois Extension.

Proper Poinsettia Care

When buying a poinsettia, choose one that has sturdy branches, dark green leaves, and good flower color. Check also that the soil in the pot is moist but not sitting in excess water. Excessive water can promote root diseases which will shorten the plant’s life. A wilted poinsettia will often drop its leaves early. Poinsettias crowded together or left in a protective sleeve for a long period are subject to foliage disease and poor light, suffering leaf yellowing and leaf drop.

Place your plant in indirect sunlight for six hours or more per day. Direct sun should be diffused with shades or sheer curtains. A temperature of 68 to 70 degrees is best. Protect your plant against drafts from heating vents, wood stoves, or other appliances. Water when soil surface feels dry to the touch; don’t wait until the plant is wilting. Do not over water or allow the poinsettia to set in excess water. Remove the decorative pot cover and allow the water to drain completely before replacing the cover. Fertilize your plant every third watering to keep the plant healthy throughout the winter.

With proper care, the poinsettia can be a nice potted plant on your patio or deck throughout the summer.

Written by Michael Boice, Oldham County Extension Horticulture Assistant. Edited by Lauren State, Oldham County Extension Staff Assistant.

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