Poinsettias (Euphorbia Pulcherrima, which translates to “very beautiful”) are considered the “official” Christmas plant. No flower says Christmas like poinsettias as they make your home very holiday-ish with its bright red leaf. Everywhere you go during the holiday season, you will immediately come across festive displays of poinsettias.
An old Mexican Legend is one reason we associate poinsettias with holidays. A young girl named Pepita was sad that she did not have a gift to leave for the baby Jesus at Christmas eve services. Her cousin told her that Jesus would love any present, even the smallest one. With no money to buy a real gift, Pepita picked a bouquet of weeds—in other versions, an angel came to her and instructed her to pick the plants. She left the weeds at the manger where it was transformed into brilliant red blooms. Today, the poinsettia is known in Mexico as “Flor de Nochebuena,” meaning Christmas Eve Flower.
Poinsettias are native to Mexico and it was known as “Mexican Flame Flower” or “Painted Leaf.” As early as 1836, the plant became known as Poinsettia after Joel Roberts Poinsett, a botanist and first U.S. Minister to Mexico. He was credited for introducing poinsettias to the United States. He began sending poinsettias from Mexico to his greenhouses in South Carolina where it slowly gained popularity in the U.S.
In 2001, Congress created National Poinsettia Day on December 12th to honor Joel Roberts Poinsett who passed away on December 12, 1851. It was a gesture of a cultural bridge between the U.S. and Mexico. The Act was also meant to recognize the contributions of Paul Ecke, the founder of America’s poinsettia industry. Paul Ecke, a California horticulturist, helped put Poinsettia on the map as a Christmas flower. Today, the poinsettia is a bestselling holiday potted plant grossing over $250 million annually. The majority of poinsettias found in the U.S are grown in California.
Though the plant is most popular around Christmas, it is a perennial and will flourish throughout the year. The days of red or white poinsettias are gone as growers are offering hybridized colors of pink, yellow, fuchsia, speckled, marbled with over 100 varieties sold to consumers.
If you want to have fun, combine several colors and plant them together in the same container after the holidays. Ask your friends to help you repurpose their poinsettias.
Fun Facts: The colored parts of the plant are not flowers but are called bracts (a modified leaf) that surround the little yellow flower in the center of the bracts.
Indoor Care: After the holidays, remove the paper wrapper and water well. You may have several plants in the container and repotting is unnecessary. Once the color fades, usually around February, trim the plants down to about 4 inches. After a week or two, new growth will start to form. In Southwest Florida, you can plant it outside any time after the blooms are spent. You can repot it or set it in the ground.
Outdoor Care: Poinsettias should be pruned during the months of April through August. Then bring them back indoors around Labor Day. Poinsettias grow best when they receive full sun and keep the soil moist—but not soaking—with light fertilizer once a month. Avoid watering late in the day. In August, poinsettias should be shaped and any leggy, diseased or bug chewed branch should be removed.
The plants need about 16 hours of darkness for 10 weeks to start setting the colorful bracts. Treat them as tender perennials and turn them into a beautiful container or landscape plants you can enjoy for many years. Many gardeners have former holiday poinsettias that are thriving and blooming during the holidays every year.
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