Poinsettia facts and care

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10 interesting facts about poinsettias

No flower says Christmas like the beautiful poinsettia. Learn a few facts about this traditional Christmas plant.

Poinsettias are part of the Euphorbiaceae or Spurge family. Botanically, the plant is known as Euphorbia pulcherrima.

Many plants in the Euphorbiaceae family ooze a milky sap. Some people with latex allergies have had a skin reaction (most likely to the sap) after touching the leaves. For pets, the poinsettia sap may cause mild irritation or nausea. Probably best to keep pets away from the plant, especially puppies and kittens.

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Poinsettias are not poisonous. A study at Ohio State University showed that a 50-pound child would have to eat more than 500 leaves to have any harmful effect. Plus poinsettia leaves have an awful taste. You might want to keep your pets from snacking on poinsettia leaves. Eating the leaves can cause vomiting and diarrhea.

The showy colored parts of poinsettias that most people think of as the flowers are actually colored bracts (modified leaves).

Poinsettias have also been called the lobster flower and the flame-leaf flower, due to the red color.

Joel Roberts Poinsett introduced the poinsettia plant to the United States from Mexico. Poinsett was a botanist, physician and the first United States Ambassador to Mexico.

In Mexico the poinsettia is a perennial shrub that will grow 10-15 feet tall.

There are more than 100 varieties of poinsettias available today. Poinsettias come in colors like the traditional red, white, pink, burgundy, marbled and speckled.

The Paul Ecke Ranch in California grows over 70 percent of all poinsettias purchased in the United States and does about 50 percent of the world-wide sales of poinsettias.

December 12 is Poinsettia Day, which marks the death of Joel Roberts Poinsett in 1851.

Anatomy of a poinsettia

The yellow flowers, or cyathia, are in the center of the colorful bracts. The plant drops its bracts and leaves soon after those flowers shed their pollen. For the longest-lasting poinsettias, choose plants with little or no yellow pollen showing.

In nature, Poinsettias are perennial flowering shrubs that were once considered weeds.

Poinsettias are not frost-tolerant. They will grow outdoors in temperate coastal climates, such as Southern California beach communities. In the ground, they can reach 10 feet tall.

The colors of the bracts are created through “photoperiodism” meaning that they require darkness (12 hours at a time for at least five days in a row) to change color. On the other hand, once poinsettias finish that process, the plants require abundant light during the day for the brightest color.

Poinsettias by the numbers

There are over 100 varieties of poinsettias available.

The red poinsettia still dominates over other color options.

Poinsettias contribute over $250 million to the U.S. economy at the retail level.

California is the top U.S. poinsettia-producing state.

Poinsettias are the best-selling potted plant in the U.S. and Canada.

Poinsettias are the most popular Christmas plant. Most poinsettias are sold within a six-week period leading up to that holiday, representing some $60 million worth of sales.

It is estimated that women account for 80 percent of poinsettia sales.

The most common question people have about poinsettias is how to get them to rebloom in successive years.

Caring for your poinsettia

The length of time your poinsettia will give you pleasure in your home is dependent on (1) the maturity of the plant, (2) when you buy it, and (3) how you treat the plant. With care, poinsettias should retain their beauty for weeks and some varieties will stay attractive for months.

After you have made your poinsettia selection, make sure it is wrapped properly because exposure to low temperatures even for a few minutes can damage the bracts and leaves.

Unwrap your poinsettia carefully and place in indirect light. Six hours of light daily is ideal. Keep the plant from touching cold windows.

Keep poinsettias away from warm or cold drafts from radiators, air registers or open doors and windows.

Ideally poinsettias require daytime temperatures of 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit and night time temperatures around 55 degrees. High temperatures will shorten the plant’s life. Move the plant to a cooler room at night, if possible.

Check the soil daily. Be sure to punch holes in foil so water can drain into a saucer. Water when soil is dry. Allow water to drain into the saucer and discard excess water. Wilted plants will tend to drop bracts sooner.

Fertilize the poinsettia if you keep it past the holiday season. Apply a houseplant fertilizer once a month. Do not fertilize when it is in bloom.

With good care, a poinsettia will last 6-8 weeks in your home.

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