Poinsettias 101 – History, Care, & Rewards

Published by Heather Fesmire in Bucks Country GardensChristmasLawn & GardenPlants

Poinsettias Overhead

The holidays are in full effect. Red, green, and white arrangements adorn tables and indoor planters. And no flowers say Christmas more than beautiful Poinsettias! Delicate, attractive, and definitely a holiday favorite, Poinsettias are a wonderful plant that add cheery color on drab winter days.

All About Poinsettias

Poinsettias are part of the Euphorbiaceae or Spurge family. Botanically, known as Euphorbia pulcherrima, they are flowering perennial shrubs that were once considered weeds.

Ironically, poinsettias are native to Mexico’s warm climate, but we use them during the cold holiday months. You are probably thinking why would a tropical plant be an indicator for the holidays? A Mexican legend tells of a girl who could only offer weeds as a gift to Jesus on Christmas Eve. When she brought the weeds into a church, they blossomed into the beautiful red plants we know as Poinsettias, known as Flores de Noche Buena in Mexico (Spanish for “flowers of the holy night”).

Traditional Red Poinsettia

Traditional Red Poinsettias

The name Poinsettia came from Botanist, physician and first United States Ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett. He introduced the plant to the United States in 1828. Enchanted by the red blooms, he started growing them in South Carolina and gave them to friends and family. The first Philadelphia Flower Show was hosted in 1829 at the Masonic Hall on Chestnut Street, where the well-known Christmas favorite, the Poinsettia, was first introduced to the American public.

The Poinsettia plant is not just red! They are also pink, yellow, white, fuchsia, and purple varieties. There are over 100 varieties of Poinsettias available today (we couldn’t possibly carry all of them!). Some even have fancy markings that look like splatter paintings! This season at Bucks Country Gardens we have Princettias (Pink & True White), Traditional (Red & White), Christmas Ribbons, Marble Star, Winter Rose, and more.

Winter Rose Poinsettia

Winter Rose Poinsettias

Colored bracts form a rose-like flower. Bloom forms vary in number, pattern, and size. Most Poinsettia plants are around 12 inches tall. Some varieties can reach up to three feet in height and in Mexico plants can grow up to 10-15 feet tall!

Are Poinsettias Safe for Pets?

Although Poinsettias have had a bad rap, they are actually not poisonous. The “poison” is greatly exaggerated. Many plants of the Euphorbiaceae family ooze milky sap. Pets should stay away from the leaves because it can cause mild irritation or nausea. Some people with latex allergies have had skin reactions after touching the leaves (most likely from the sap). Better to be safe than sorry.

Poinsettia Care

The big question… how do I take care of these holiday plants? The answer is – carefully. In order to retain Poinsettia’s Christmas blooms, they have a few growing needs.

  • Environment – Enjoys semi-cool, humid surroundings. Adding plants, as well as humidifiers, nearby will increase humidity levels in dry rooms. Poinsettias are sensitive to the cold.
  • Light – Enjoys bright, indirect sunlight.
  • Water – Thoroughly water, but don’t drown! Ensure there is adequate drainage. Avoid letting them sit in water-filled saucers. This can lead to root rot.
  • Fertilizing – Not recommended while Poinsettias are still in bloom. Only fertilize if you are keeping them after the holiday.

Care After the Holidays

Once flower bracts have fallen, you have the option of discarding (see below for a fun deal!) or keeping it an additional year. If you choose to continue to care for the Poinsettia:

Marble Star Poinsettia

Marble Star Poinsettias

  • Decrease the amount of water to let it dry out some, but don’t let it dry out completely.
  • Relocate the plant to a cool, dark area until spring or around April.
  • Apply houseplant fertilizer every two weeks or once monthly. The Poinsettia should begin to regrow within weeks, provided it is given the proper environment.
  • In the spring, return the plant to a sunny area and water it well.
  • Cut back branches about six inches from the pot’s rim.
  • Repot with the same type of soil.
  • Keep inside throughout the summer or even outside. If you do put them outside, keep them protected from direct sun (they prefer partial shade).
  • After six to ten inches of new growth, pinch out tips to promote branching.
  • September through November, Poinsettias require long periods of darkness at night (about 12 hours). Allow plenty of sunlight during the day.
  • Once blooming occurs, provide semi-cool, humid location in bright, indirect light with plenty of moisture.

Christmas Ribbons Poinsettia

Christmas Ribbons Poinsettias

Poinsettia Leaves Falling Off

Environmental factors can make plant leaves fall off. For example, warm dry conditions. Stress can also affect leaves. Keeping the plant in a cool, draft-free area with plenty of water will help prevent leaf drop.

Bring in Your Poinsettias Dead or Alive

January 8 thru February 11 – Wanted Dead or Alive! Bring us your Poinsettias no matter the condition or where you bought them and we will give you a $5 reward, Use your $5 reward on your same day purchase of $15 or more in the greenhouse. See store for more details.

Now you know all about Poinsettias and how to care for them, and with the proper care you can have these lovely plants for year-round beauty.

More Fun Facts About Poinsettias

Written by:

Heather Fesmire | Digital Marketing Assistant
Material from Gardening Know How & Illinois Extension