Poinsettia Flowers For Christmas
Displaying Poinsettia flowers for Christmas has been a tradition for many years, and for good reason! These beautiful plants make a delightful centerpiece or festive floral accent in the home for the holidays. They’re also a wonderful gift for family, friends, or the hostess of a party.
Poinsettia plants are so popular, they even have a national day named after them!
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Interesting Poinsettia Facts
Poinsettias are perennial shrubs in their native Mexico and can grow up to 15 feet tall. The botanical name of this member of the spurge family is Euphorbia pulcherrima. Pulcherrima means ‘very beautiful’, an apt description.
These pretty plants come in an array of colors, from the traditional red, to shades of purple and pink, white, and splash or speckled. You can even buy them with glitter applied if you want some extra bling.
Many conservatories and greenhouses stage an extravagant holiday display of Poinsettias to draw in visitors. Poinsettia ‘trees’ are a favorite!
In their native habitat, these wildflowers are common and stunning when natural conditions cause their bracts (colored leaves often mistaken as flower petals) to change color. Wild Poinsettias provide nectar for butterflies and bees and grow like, well, weeds!
A Brief History of Poinsettias
Poinsettias were well known to the Ancient Aztecs. They used the milky sap medicinally to control fevers and the red bracts for dying their clothing and cosmetics.
In the 1820s Joel Robert Poinsett served as the first United States Ambassador to Mexico. His interest in botany led him on walks to identify and collect ‘new’ plant species. Poinsett found a large attractive shrub with red leaves growing on a roadside and took cuttings to bring home to South Carolina.
The exotic plant grew in popularity over the years and was renamed in honor of the man who introduced it to the United States, from the name Poinsett to Poinsettia. Because of this, Poinsettia is capitalized.
Instructions for Poinsettia Care
The Poinsettia plant hails from temperate climates and is not a cold tolerant plant. Wrap with several layers of paper before bringing it home in cold weather. Bring your new Poinsettia home promptly and avoid leaving in a cold car as you run errands. This protects the delicate plant from freezing.
Poinsettias like 6 hours of bright, indirect light each day and should be kept out of cold drafts or heat blowing from a register. Temperatures in the 60 – 70 Fahrenheit range are ideal during the day, with slightly cooler temps overnight. Keep Poinsettias evenly moist, but do not allow to sit in water. Poke two or three holes in the foil wrapping and set in a saucer or decorative container to catch runoff and protect your table.
After The Holidays End…
For those who would like to keep their Poinsettia plants after the holidays are over, allow them a period with less water (but do not allow soil to dry out) before the new growing season begins. Then give light applications of houseplant fertilizer and keep soil evenly moist. Transplant into a larger pot if needed.
To induce flowering for next Christmas requires a bit more planning and attention. Starting 40 days before colored bracts are desired (October 1st works well), the plants must have 13 hours a day of total darkness. Place them in a room with no windows, under plant lights on a timer. Set the timer to turn lights off for 13 to 16 hours of complete darkness each day. Make sure no light gets through cracks around doors to interrupt the necessary period of darkness or the plants will not color up properly!
Are Poinsettias Poisonous?
Although this plant is reputed to be poisonous, it would take a very large amount to cause any adverse effects. However, keep it out of reach of pets and children, as it can cause nausea and diarrhea. If Fido does munch on the leaves, it is not cause for an emergency trip to the vet’s office!
Some people report an allergic reaction to the sap from the leaves, so avoid contact if you have latex allergies.
National Poinsettia Day Activities
December 12th was chosen as National Poinsettia Day in memory of Joel Robert Poinsettia’s death on December 12th, 1851. And although that may be a sad occasion, there are numerous activities your family can enjoy to celebrate the introduction of this beautiful flower to the United States.
Here are some ideas to celebrate National Poinsettia Day:
- Print free coloring pages of Poinsettias
- Make a paper Poinsettia ornament
- Print a free Poinsettia frame for your family Christmas card
- Listen to the story of Pepita and the Miracle of the Poinsetta
- Make a tissue paper Poinsettia ‘painting’
- Visit a greenhouse or conservatory displaying Poinsettias for the holidays
- Purchase a live Poinsettia to decorate your home
- Root and plant cuttings of a Poinsettia to start new plants (non-patented plants only, follow instructions when using rooting hormone.)
- Make your own Poinsettia gift wrap with rubber stamps, non-toxic ink or paint, and kraft paper
- Make Poinsettia Christmas cards, gift tags, and gift bags
- Decorate your home with Poinsettia tablecloth, crafts, and handmade paper Poinsettias
Enjoy a Live Poinsettia Plant for the Holiday!
Who can resist a live Poinsettia plant for Christmas? Real flowers beat the plastic ones any day, and you can keep one as a houseplant instead of tossing in the garbage. If the plant doesn’t survive, it is safe to compost for your garden.
Bring a Poinsettia to a neighbor, friend, nursing home or your child’s teacher! (Seriously, teachers have enough coffee mugs already!)
Anyone who enjoys gardening will love to get one of these pretty Poinsettias. The white varieties might make a beautiful decoration for Hanukkah if they are available.
With a bit of extra care, you’ll be able to enjoy the same plant year after year!
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