How beautiful is the poinsettia?
We can get it in many colors at Christmas time and it wouldn’t seem like Christmas if we didn’t have it, right?
The poinsettia is a native flower to Mexico and Central America and is a member of the Euphorbia or spurge family. It got its name from the man who introduced it into the USA. He was a botanist and physician named Joel Poinsett. He was US Ambassador to Mexico and introduced this flower to the US in 1825 after discovering the shrubby weed in the countryside in Mexico.
It is known in Mexico as the “Flor de Noche Buena” which means the Christmas Eve Flower, but it has many names throughout the world. These shrubs can grow up to 15 feet high.
There is a legend about the association of the poinsettia to Christmas which began in Mexico in the 1500s. The legend involves a girl who was too poor to afford a gift for the Christ child and was given an inspiration by an angel to gather the weeds from the roadside and present those in church. When she placed them on the altar, the bouquet of weeds began to sprout red blossoms and that is where we get the poinsettia. That star –shaped pattern is said to represent the Star of Bethlehem .
I never realized that there is a National Poinsettia Day on December 12. (Dr. Poinsett died on Dec 12, 1851.)
Is it Poisonous?
According to urban legend, this plant is poisonous. But studies have shown this just isn’t true. Studies have shown that this flower was not poisonous at all even with very high doses. Ingesting it can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea if you are sensitive to its sap. If you have a latex allergy, you may find yourself sensitive to this plant.
Caution: Remember that your reaction to a poinsettia may be different than another person. Spurges are commonly known to produce allergic reactions via their sap in any sensitive individual. It can be irritating to your eyes , skin and stomach and cause diarrhea and vomiting. So handle it carefully and it may be best to keep away from small children and pets if they are prone to picking at your plants.
Choosing A Plant
Of course, we all know that the colorful part of the poinsettia, usually red, it not really the flower, but a modified leaf called a bract. At the center of the bracts themselves, you’ll find the real flower called a cyathia. In a fresh plant, these will be red or green tipped with only a slight yellow showing ; the more yellow pollen showing, the older the flower will be. Once these flowers shed their pollen, the bracts will fall off.
When choosing which poinsettia to purchase, choose the one with the least amount of yellow showing in the center. Your plant will last longer that way.
Growing and Keeping A Poinsettia
These plants are frost sensitive and can only be grown outdoors where no frost will reach them. The bush can reach 10-15 feet tall. I don’t have any luck growing this plant in my Backyard flower garden.
If you are keeping your poinsettia from year to year, you must follow a procedure to get blooms for Christmas.
Starting Oct 1, the plant needs to be in total darkness for 14 hours a day, and in sunlight for the rest of the time. You cannot let even a slight amount of light on the plant during the dark period. It is said some people enclose the whole pot and plant in a dark garbage bag, closing it with a tie at the top, then pulling it down around the plant during the light hours, and pulling it up and closing at night. Try it.
Then in early November, you may set it in regular light and the bracts will take on color and put on a showing by Christmas. In theory. I have never had any luck with re-bloom. Maybe I don’t have enough patience for it. I am usually composting some random “ What are these dead sticks, anyway…..”
I need to keep the Poinsettia industry in business by buying more. It’s my duty. They work hard for their money! I sure can’t get mine to live to Christmas even! Yes, that bundle of sticks on my back porch is a poinsettia plant. No luck with them whatsoever!