Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Apple #425: Poinsettias

I just bought two poinsettias, one for home and one for my office. I didn't go for the usual red; I chose pink with gold sparkles. That sounds awful, but they're actually quite pretty.

(Photo by the Apple Lady)

  • People all across North America will buy an estimated 75 million poinsettias this Christmas season -- or roughly $300 million.
  • Nearly all of them are sold during a six-week period around Christmas.
  • 80% of poinsettias sold each year are red. 20% are other colors.

You can order a red poinsettia like this one, and have it delivered to Romania, if you order it from Romanian Roses. It'll set you back a mere $57.77.

  • The first cultivars, or varieties, that had different colors of leaves were produced by separating genetically mutated sprouts, or sports, and growing them to be their own separate plants. More recent new colors are produced by cross-pollinating plants of differing colors, collecting the resulting plant's seeds, and growing new plants from them.

Greenhouse technicians care for the thousands of poinsettias in varieties of all sorts that are displayed at Rutgers' George H. Cook campus greenhouse each year.
(Photo from Rutgers)

  • Poinsettias are the best-selling potted flowering plant in the United States.
  • But the things we think of as flowers are actually leafy bracts. The bracts change color, like most plants' leaves do, when the amount of daylight lessens in the fall.
  • The true flowers are tiny yellow blossoms tucked deep among the leaves. They have no scent.

The flowers are the tiny little things in the center of the colored leaves.
(Photo from Our Ohio)

  • The poinsettia is native to Mexico, but they grow throughout Central America.
  • It is named after a guy named Joel Poinsett who was John Quincy Adam's Ambassador to Mexico in the 1820s. Besides being an ambassador and a congressman, he was also an amateur botanist.
  • One of his jobs while he was in Mexico was to try to deal with the fact that they were having a civil war. But he is best remembered for the fact that he saw a plant with big red leaves and liked it so much, he took some cuttings home to his greenhouse in South Carolina. (Here's what wild pionsettias look like -- very different)
  • Poinsettias are not poisonous. Even if you eat your weight x 10 number of leaves, you might only start getting a stomach ache.
  • But the taste is said to be horrible, so you'd really have to persevere to eat that many leaves.
  • The plants do ooze a milky sap, which may irritate your skin.
  • When I brought my plants home, I noticed something white and gooey on a few of the leaves that looked and felt like hand lotion. I assumed that someone in the store where I'd bought them had accidentally sprinkled lotion on them. Must have been the milky sap. Apparently I'm not allergic to it.
  • If your pets eat the plant, the sap may make them throw up a lot or get diarrhea. But it's not going to kill them. So says the ASPCA.
  • Left to grow naturally in the tropics, some poinsettias can grow to be 10 feet tall.

These white poinsettias are sold by Paul Ecke Poinsettias and they come in a special polar bear container. For every one of these sold, Ecke Poinsettias will make a donation to Polar Bears International to support conservation.

Choosing a Poinsettia

  • plants with dark green foliage all the way to the soil
  • bracts that are colored all the way out to the edges
  • plants that are 2.5 x taller than the container's diameter
  • Look at the center of a cluster of bracts where the flower clusters grow. If you can see very little yellow pollen, choose that one.

  • drooping or wilting
  • fallen or yellowed leaves
  • lots of green around the bract edges
  • plants that have been crowded together
  • wet soil and wilted plant -- a possible sign of root rot
  • If there is yellow pollen on and around the little flowers, the plant will drop its bracts very soon.

The flowers on this poinsettia are fully open and there is a sprinkling of pollen on the surrounding leaves. Best to choose a different plant to take home.
(Photo by Old Shoe Woman, sourced from Flowers Florist Information Directory)

Taking Care of a Poinsettia
  • They like warm temperatures -- remember, they came from Mexico -- ideally, somewhere between 55°F at night and 70°F during the day.
  • They don't like cold drafts, so keep them away from drafty windows or doors.
  • When you're taking it home, wrap it entirely in a bag. Cold drafts even for a few minutes can make the plant drop its leaves.
  • They don't like really high temperatures, either, so don't put them right next to a furnace register.
  • As for lighting, they prefer indirect lighting for about 6 hours a day.
  • Southern exposure windows are not good places for poinsettias because the sunlight will be too direct and it's likely to be drafty.
  • If the leaves start turning light green, give them more sunlight.
  • Water only when the soil is dry.
  • Take off the foil wrapper or punch holes in the bottom, and put the container in a saucer to allow excess water to drain out. Empty the saucer.
  • If water stays in the pot, the plant will probably get root rot.
  • Fertilize the plant about once a month. This will help make it last beyond Christmas.
  • If the little flowers are blooming, don't fertilize it. Wait until the blooms are wilted.

Oh, dear. I've chosen plants that were crowded together, and it was really cold and windy when I carried the plants home, and I watered them. I suppose they're right now dropping their bracts all over the floor downstairs.

More signs I chose wrong -- the leaves aren't darkly colored all the way out to the edges, and some of the bracts are curling up. I should've consulted the Daily Apple before I went to the store.
(Photo by the Apple Lady)

University of Illinois Extension, The Poinsettia Pages
Steve Whysall, Getting your poinsettia across, National Post, December 5, 2009
Smithsonian Institution, Poinsettia Fact Sheet
The Gardeners' Network, How to Grow and Care for Poinsettias


  1. We were given a poinsettia for the first time this year, thanks for the good info!

  2. I just found your blog and love it. I found it by googling something about CPR. Your post was most informative. I'll be back.:)

  3. Glad to hear it, Dustin & Betty.

    Hey, if any of you have any Christmas or holiday-themed requests, let me know.


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