You always know that the holidays are upon us when you start seeing the beautiful red hues of the poinsettia plants. These wonderful plants are a culturally important plant species of the diverse 'spurge' family that grows naturally in Mexico and Central America. It gerts its common English name from Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Minister to Mexico,who introduced the plant into the United States in 1825.
Poinsettia plants can grow anywhere from 1.5ft high to a huge 13 ft. The colored bracts (meaning a specialized or modified leaf) which are most often flaming red but can be orange, pale green, cream, pink, white or marbled—are often mistaken for flower petals because of their groupings and colors, but are actually leaves. The colors of the bracts are created through photoperiodism, meaning that they require darkness (12 hours at a time for at least 5 days in a row) to change color. At the same time, the plants require abundant light during the day for the brightest colors that we love.
In fact, we love them so much, that in the United States, December 12 is National Poinsettia Day!
Choosing a Poinsettia
Shopping for a poinsettia is almost as much fun as choosing your Christmas tree! Keep in mind the basic ideas of a healthy plant when looking at poinsettias. You want a full, robust looking plant without wilted or yellowed leaves. The leaves should be a deep green color and the plant should look good from all sides.
If you find a good selection of poinsettas, (there are more than 100 varieties available) you're likely to run into more color options than just the traditional red. Poinsettias are aslo available in pinks, ivory, marble variations, blues (the rarest color) and purple shades. This is due to selective breeding and cross-breeding of varieties to produce these unique colors. Also in the past few years there has been a new trend of 'painting' and adding glitter to traditional colored plants.
Basic Care of your Poinsettia
Be careful when taking your new poinsettia home and try not to expose it to the cold for very long as this could damage it. Unwrap your poinsettia carefully and place in indirect light. Six hours of light daily is ideal. Although the poinsetta is the Christmas plant, they don't do well if left in a chilly room or in the car over night. Avoid setting the plant near drafty doors or windows. Do not leave it in a room without heat. Do not set it near heat ducts or radiators, or on top of the television. Hot temperatures indoors combined with high humidity will help the plant to thrive.
Allow the plant to dry out between waterings. Avoid over-watering and never allow the pot to sit in standing water. Spray the leaves with a fine mist of water frequently during the bloom period. Fill the overflow saucer on your flower pot with gravel to allow water seeping through the pot to evaporate from the gravel. With good care, a poinsettia will last 6-8 weeks in your home. But.... if you'd like to enjoy your poinsettia the rest of the year and would like to have it rebloom next year, keep reading..
Although many poinsettias are thrown out after the holidays, with proper care you can enjoy your poinsettia year round. By trimming back any remaining leaves and continuing to care for the plant by keeping it moist can help. To force the blooms next season, start reducing the plant’s exposure to sunlight in mid-September to October. This will mean removing the plant to an area that is shrouded in complete darkness, such as a closet for 12 to 14 hours in a 24 hour period. Even streetlights or indoor lighting can affect blooming.