The fiery red plant poinsettia is everywhere at holiday time. Make this classic easy-to-care-for favorite a part of your holiday decor.
The Poinsettia’s Colorful History
The poinsettia is indigenous to a region in Mexico, where they bloom during December, creating crimson mountainsides and growing to heights of 16 feet. The plants delighted the first missionaries to Mexico who included them in their Advent-season ceremonies. Hence, the association with the holidays began. Poinsettias were later introduced to America by botanist and first US Ambassador to Mexico, Joel Poinsett.
Choosing Your Poinsettia
When shopping for a poinsettia, look for:
- Dark green, dense and plentiful foliage.
- Tightly-clustered buds to last throughout the holiday season.
- The smallest leaves surrounding the yellow buds to be fully colored. If they're still partially green, your plant will quickly lose its color.
- If the yellow buds in the center of the flower have started to drop off or have already shed pollen (look for tiny yellow grains), the plant is not fresh.
- Avoid plants with yellow, greenish-white, or sagging leaves. Plants with faded, torn or discolored bracts (leaves beneath the flower) are not the best choice either.
- As with any plant, make sure your poinsettia is free from insects and diseases.
When you have chosen the perfect poinsettia, don't leave it in your car while you continue shopping. An indoor plant that's exposed to cold winds and temperatures below 50° F can be damaged or killed. Get the store to bag the plant, but be sure to remove any wrapping as soon as you get home.
Caring for Your Poinsettia
Poinsettias are easy to care for throughout the holidays. Just follow these simple rules:
Light - Poinsettias need a minimum of six hours of bright (but not direct) sunlight each day.
Temperature - These plants prefer temperatures from 65-70° F during the day with a drop to 60°-65° at night. The lower night temperatures help the poinsettias keep their brilliant color. Protect the plants from both cold and hot drafts from outside doors, heat registers or appliances. Never let the plant be exposed to temperatures less than 55° F.
Water - Poinsettias like moist, but not wet, soil. When the top of the soil becomes dry, add room temperature water to the plant. Allow the water to drain through the pot when watering, and then discard any excess water in the saucer. If the plant's container was wrapped with decorative foil, be sure to remove the foil from the bottom of the container to allow water to drain through the plant.
Overwatering the poinsettia and letting it sit in excess water are common mistakes that will kill the plant. If your poinsettia begins to wilt, too much or too little water could be the culprit. If the plant feels dry, add water immediately. If the container feels heavy and the soil is wet, allow the poinsettia to dry out before watering it again.
Poinsettias and Their Poisonous Reputation
Poinsettias are not poisonous. Ingesting the leaves (it would take a lot) would cause some stomach discomfort (as with eating many other nonfood items). If leaves or stems are eaten, rinse the mouth with water. The sap can be a skin irritant to humans or pets; wash the affected area with soap and water after contact. As with any plant or material, if you experience a severe reaction of any kind, seek medical help promptly.