Celebrating Euphorbia Pulcherrima

The Christmas Poinsettia!

The ancient Aztecs displayed poinsettias as a symbol of purity, and used poinsettia leaves to make dyes for cloth and baskets. In the 17th century, Franciscan friars in Mexico were likely the first to decorate for their Christmas celebrations using poinsettias because the plant’s star-shaped leaf reminded them of the Star of Bethlehem that led the Three Wise Men to the baby Jesus.

In modern times we celebrate poinsettias as symbols of good cheer and success; this humble plant has risen to become the  #1 pre-Christmas gift item and #1 floral decoration for homes, offices, and retail stores everywhere. In fact, the poinsettia dominates the potted plant industry, chalking up an impressive 70 million sold in a period of just 6 weeks at a value of over $250 million!

Did you know that poinsettia leaves aren’t really leaves at all? The leaves are called bracts, the part of plant found above the leaves but below the flower. The tiny yellow petals in the center of the poinsettia are the real flowers.

Poinsettias “kept in the dark”
Poinsettias coming to market are forced to color-up for Christmas by being “kept in the dark” from mid-September to the end of October. Our friends at UF/IFAS Extension call the poinsettia a “short day” plant. To force a plant you own to turn red, keep it outdoors and in the dark by covering it with a crate or tent. During this time, just water when needed but omit the fertilizer. The color of a poinsettia depends on its light exposure and some are bred to be pink, white, yellow, purple, salmon and multi-colored varieties. Other may have special dyes sprayed onto the bracts a few days before shipment. The spotted effect comes from alcohol sprinkled onto the dyed bracts—then there’s the sticky glitter for those who love glam.

Landscape poinsettias
Poinsettias grow in Florida landscapes all year long, some quite successfully! However they do need attention: after Christmas, prune faded bracts and in the summer pinch back bracts to create full plants with lots of flower heads. Additionally, if your poinsettias are part of a landscape, locate them away from nighttime artificial light sources to delay or prevent future flowering.

Are poinsettias safe for pets and kids?
Yes, sort of. The bracts and flowers are a bit toxic for pets and children, but not deadly (a pet may drool and a child have mild dermatitis), but since the plants taste awful, problems are rare. If concerned, just place them out of reach.

To learn more about
(a) using poinsettias as outdoor plants, or
(b) how to care for a potted plant you received as a gift (or splurged and bought for yourself!), or
(c) troubleshooting any insect issues concerning the poinsettias,
see the UF/IFAS article, Poinsettias At A Glance.

From the entire Jenkins Landscape team,

Merry Christmas!