By Ken Johnson
Poinsettias are the most popular plant during the Christmas season. In fact they are the bestselling potted plant in the United States and Canada. There are over 100 different varieties of poinsettias. In addition to the traditional red plants, poinsettias can also be found in a wide variety of colors including pink, white, yellow, purple, and salmon. While many people consider these colored parts of the plants the flowers, they are actually modified leaves called bracts. The greenish-yellow flowers (cyathia) are in the center of the bracts. Poinsettias will drop their bracts and leaves once their flowers have shed all of their pollen. Therefore, if you want long lasting poinsettias, it’s best to choose plants that have little or no pollen showing in their flowers.
If taken care of properly, poinsettias’ displays can last for several weeks. After you have selected a poinsettia make sure that it is wrapped while you are transporting it to its final destination, particularly if it is cold outside. Exposure to cold temperatures can damage the bracts and leaves of the plant. Place poinsettias in indirect sunlight for six hours and make sure they aren’t touching windows (for the same reasons as above). Ideally poinsettias should have daytime temperatures around 60 to 70°F and night time temperatures around 55°F. Warmer temperatures will shorten the length of the poinsettias display. If possible, try moving your poinsettia into a cooler room during the night.
When it comes to water, water poinsettias when the soil becomes dry. Often, poinsettias come wrapped in foil and plastic. If you are going to leave these wrappings on the pot, make sure to poke holes in the bottom of them so that water can drain out. Once water has drained out of the pot discard the excess water. Allowing plants to be constantly waterlogged can lead to root rot and premature death. It’s not necessary to fertilize poinsettias while they are in bloom. If you plan on keeping your plants after the holidays fertilize them once a month after they are done blooming.
Contrary to popular belief, poinsettias are not poisonous. The misconception began in 1919 when an Army officer’s child allegedly died after consuming a poinsettia leaf. While this was never proved and was later determined to be hearsay, the story has persisted. In fact, a study conducted at Ohio State University showed that a 50-pound child would have to eat more than 1 1/4 pounds of poinsettia leaves (500 to 600 leaves) to have any harmful effects. That being said, poinsettias may ooze a milky sap and some people that have latex allergies may have a reaction to it. This may also cause mild irritation and nausea in pets, so it may be best to keep pets away from them.
For more information on poinsettias visit University of Illinois Extension’s The Poinsettia Pages at http://urbanext.illinois.edu/poinsettia.