Poinsettia, Christmas star, Christmas flower, Painted leaf, Lobster plant, Mexican flameleaf, Mexican flame tree
Poinsettias are leafy plants, typically with dark green leaves topped with colored, modified leaf bracts, which many people incorrectly consider to be the flowers or flower petals. The real flowers are the tiny, mostly yellow berrylike cyathia in the center of each colored leaf bract.
The most common colors are reds and burgundies, but poinsettias also are available in a range of pinks, salmon/apricot/peach, creamy whites and ivories, and pale yellows, as well as a variety of marbled, spotted and striped bicolors. New varieties and colors, including red-orange, plum and lime green, are being developed every year.
Tinted and dyed poinsettias, in every color and color combination imaginable, have gained favor with some consumers over the past three or four years.
Poinsettias will last several weeks to several months, depending on variety, interior conditions, care and maturity of the plants at the time of purchase.
These holiday plants are generally available only in November and December although some hybridizers are experimenting with year-round varieties.
LIGHT Poinsettias require at least six hours of bright indirect (diffused) sunlight every day.
WATER These plants require moderately moist soil at all times. Water them thoroughly, saturating the soil completely, when the soil surface is dry to the touch, then allow them to drain; do not allow pots to sit in water. Water plants immediately if leaves/bracts begin to wilt.
TEMPERATURE Average room temperatures (60 F to 70 F) are required—65 F to 70 F during the daytime and 60 F to 65 F at night. Cool conditions prolong bloom time. Never expose plants to temperatures above 70 F or below 50 F for extended periods.
HUMIDITY Poinsettias thrive in humid air, so in dry interior environments, place pots on a pebble tray or mist leaves frequently. Keep plants away from drafts and the heat and dry air emitted by appliances, fireplaces or ventilating ducts.
FERTILIZER Plant food is not necessary while poinsettias are in bloom, but plants purchased early in the season can benefit from a high-phosphorous fertilizer applied every two weeks.
What’s In A Name: The common name “poinsettia” was given in honor of Joel Robert Poinsett (1775-1851), a gardener, botanist and diplomat from South Carolina, who was the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, from 1825 to 1829; he sent these plants from Taxco, Mexico, to Charleston in 1828, where he began propagating them and sending them to friends and botanical gardens.
The genus name Euphorbia was given in honor of Euphorbus, the Greek physician to Juba II, the king of Mauretania (on the north African coast), around the end of the first century B.C.
The specific epithet “pulcherrima” means “very handsome/pretty.”
Home Sweet Home: Poinsettia plants are native to Mexico but are grown right here in Minnesota.
Old Wives’ Tale: Contrary to widely circulated misinformation, poinsettias are not poisonous to humans or other animals—unless ingested in enormous quantities, and then only mild discomfort would be experienced.