05 December 2007

Christmas plants, part 1: Poinsettias


It's always dangerous for me to walk into local nurseries at this time of year. Not only am I highly susceptible to purchasing presents for family, I might succumb to bringing home something for our home. Today, I just HAPPENED to walk into Blomidon Nurseries just after they'd taken delivery of a shipment of poinsettias in a range of sizes and colours.


Natural colours, that is, through hybridizing, not through spray painting, watering in food colouring, or other demented mangling of these wonderful plants. I had a screaming good tantrum about the travesty of blue poinsettias last year, so I won't trouble you with a repeat performance...although I did manage to get in a shot at them (and black decorations) in my most recent column on plants in the Halifax Herald. (Note that the Herald only keeps articles up for a week, so that particular story will only be up until Saturday night.)
I'll happily embrace poinsettias in most colours that breeders are coming up with, including the bicolour ones, those that are spangled and splashed with a contrasting colour, and those that are more burgundy or even violet than red. But not blue, not when it's as garish as the ones I have seen both in bigbox stores and online.

Okay, enough grumbling, and on with the plant discussion. Poinsettias are euphorbias, and regular readers of bloomingwriter may well remember that I get downright euphoric over euphorbias of all kinds. These natives of Central America and Mexico are perennial and bushy in their native habitat, and also for many in the US with kinder, gentler hardiness zones than we have in most of Canada. Their name comes from an American ambassador to Mexico, Joel Poinsett, in the early 19th century. What we consider flower petals are actually colourful, modified leaves called bracts. (Other euphorbias also have insignificant flowers surrounded by bracts, as do plants such as hellebores.)


Millions of poinsettias are sold each year--more than 65 million in the US alone--but most of us tend to treat the plants as annuals, disposing of them in midwinter and purchasing new plants the following Christmas season. I confess to being in that department, only because I haven't the space to nurture a whole host of extra plants in winter. (the windows are full as it is.) I haven't bought any large plants yet; what I did today was bring home four different coloured cultivars in four separate pots; small plants, easy to arrange on steps or tabletops or in other areas where you want a small, festive burst of colour. I'll bring home several larger plants (in 8 inch pots) in another week or so, after I get the housecleaning out of the way in preparation for Christmas decorating.


A couple of things to remember about poinsettias: choose plants that don't have their flowers yet opened. Those tiny flowers should be closed with only a bit of colour showing, not fully open. They like bright light but not direct sunlight, and not too hot a temperature, which is why they do well at our home, which is quite cool except for the kitchen. Avoid placing the plants in hot windows, or in areas where they will get either cold or warm drafts. It makes me completely NUTS to go into a department store and find a big display of poinsettias by the front door--getting bathed in cold air everytime an eager shopper enters. While the plants require regular watering, they don't want to stand in saucers of water and saturated soil. Allow them to dry out between waterings, but not to the point where the plant is wilting and gasping for water. They don't need to be fertilized while they're in bloom.

Poinsettias get a bit of a bad rep for being toxic, because like many of their relatives, they exude a white, milky sap. While this sap can irritate the eyes or skin, current research indicates that there has never been a death caused by injesting a poinsettia. Animals can exhibit vomiting or diarrhea if they've dined on the plants, so you should put your plants out of reach of naughty noses or paddypaws. Our experience has been that we've only once had a cat get sick from eating poinsettias--and we're not sure that was what she ate. She's still with us and doing fine, years later. The cat children seem to prefer trying to dine on my Ophiopogon (Black Mondo Grass) or Phormium (New Zealand Flax) or those roses my better half gave me last week. (they're also still doing fine. )

If you're really concerned about a pet--or a young child--snacking on poinsettias, you can always go the artificial route. In recent years 'silk' poinsettias and other flowers have become so lifelike that it's hard to tell the difference until you touch one. And you can have fun with decorating with silk flowers on curtains, wreaths across doorways and other places where you can't put a real one and expect it to do well.

16 comments:

  1. Good info! I confess my poinsettias are artificial, but I'll end up buying one or two real plants when I can get to a real greenhouse to buy something other than the traditional red.

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

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  2. Jodi! :-) I thought I might be ahead of you on this one! Today I took a few photos of my lone pointsettia hoping to write about it this week. You're one (or maybe 2) jumps ahead of ... no prob'! I'll still post a little something about my pointsettia (not blue, btw). Boy, do I agree with you on all that nonsense. Anyway, all fun aside -- it's always a pleasure to learn something extra. I'll have to reconsider my 'angle' for my post ... maybe I'll make mine purely decorative in nature ... or not ... wait and see! Thanks for all your great posts.

    Diane, Sand to Glass
    where it's currently minus 28 C and is supposed to go to minus 35 or colder tonight!!

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  3. I'm a very good poinsetta killer, since I allways forget to water them. Perhaps I was born with a 'not edible, not important' trait in my character. I'll even avoid silk poinsettas because I forget them untill I discover them during summer, sitting proudly on the library table*, covered in layers upon layers of dust. It's a pitty since it's a really beautiful flower.

    The odd fact; in swedish poinsettas are called julstjärnor ie. christmas stars. There has been a fad for white ones over here, but the classical red still rules.

    *We don't own a tv.

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  4. Layanee at 'Ledge and Gardens'06 December, 2007 10:46

    My favorite is 'Monet' with that air brushed quality of pink! The reds are beautiful and really say 'Christmas' but the color is a bit harsh for my living room. My Mom bought one of the garishly spray painted one for a friend. She said it was pretty! Ugh! She is a great seamstress and has a black thumb! LOL:) Everyone has their gifts!

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  5. We used to live in Encinitas, Ca. which is also home of one of the world's biggest poinsettia growers. To my amazement, the poinsettias grew in our backyard in huge bushes that were six feet tall and eight feet wide. After Christmas, we'd just take the ones in the pots and stick them in the ground and they'd get going. The grower is Paul Ecke and they have a good website; pauleckepoinsettias.com. Now that I'm lviing in New England, I've killed every poinsettia I've bought. I stick to amaryllis and Christmas cactus - less finicky.

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  6. Every Advent I buy Poinsettias...they are almost as important as all the candles I also buy at the same time! We also call them here "Christmas stars" and we have them in different red shapes, pink and white. A few years ago they started to sell them also in blue, yellow and gold (of course not the real colour!).

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  7. Very imformative post with great photos, Jodi ... I'm with you regarding spray-painted gaudy poinsettias in shades of blue or other ghastly hues, again adding insult with glitter and sequins. People who purchase these are NOT gardeners. Thank God, there seems to be less of these monstrosities than last year. Perhaps the fad had ended!

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  8. It is called here in Poland 'Bethlehem Star'.
    I stopped buying it for Christmas, cos I feel sorry for throw them away every time. I tried to grow, but without spectacular success - even thou, where would I find the space to keep them all?
    greetings,
    e.

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  9. Great post Jodi,

    Though I'm in a small club of people who can't stand the sight of poinsettias. I don't know why I don't like them-my dislike is very irrational but I can't help it.

    The dolled up ones you see in the stores now make me dislike them even more.

    Last year I went out of my way to kill two of them that were given to me. :0/

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  10. Jodi, I don't have to go out of my way to kill poinsettas. I like them but they don't like being inside my house. Too hot and dry I guess. As I said I abhor what dealers do to the live poinsettas to make them into trendy colors. The sparkles are the worse thing.

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  11. What gorgeous plants -- I especially like the fourth photo down which looks like it's been spattered with paint! Nothing says "Christmas" like a poinsettia. :)

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  12. I love these flowers. My dad grew for a local greehouse for years. He always had a great pointsetia every year for the house. He even gave me and my sisiter one long after we were grown and away. Gosh they are so much a part of my Christmas memories. Thanks for the info and the lovely pictures

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  13. Your photos are beautiful, Jodi and even if it's silk the wreath is pretty cool!
    The darker red ones are my favorite and glitter really freaks me out.

    I remember seeing them grown in Illinois in huge greenhouses. Automated equipment pulled some kind of fabric shields across on a strict schedule to exclude light and regulate the daylength so the blooms would be triggered. Down here I got one to rebloom for two more years. I let it stay outside away from artificial light until the buds appeared then brought it in to 'finish'. But forgetting to protect it on one cold night ended the experiment in year three.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

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  14. What a great article about one of the few plants I really hate. It even makes me feel sorry for the poor poinsettia that was given to me a few weeks ago and that I managed to kill off within a week. Unlike Mr Brown Thumb I didn't even go out of my way to do this. Plants feel it when I don't like them and give up without putting up a long fight. ):

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  15. I'm sorry to say that I hate poinsettias like several of the commenters above me....I usually don't hate plants and try to give them all a break. But this one, though seemingly a perfect solution to adding holiday color to one's home, just doesn't make sense...it's so darn fussy it clearly doesn't want to be in our cold, drafty homes! I've killed more than I can stand and just walk by them now whenever I'm tempted. And I'm with you...seeing the blue ones, or glitter-festooned ones just makes me gag. But hey - it takes all types, right?

    After all of that, though, I must say I DO kind of like the soft creamy ones (especially when they're mixed with a variegated, trailing ivy)...but can't stand the thought of throwing them out or watching them languish in my care... Glad to hear I'm not alone!

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  16. I found your blog while searching online for the care of the poinsettia. I feel so sorry for mine you see and feel it needs intervention. I received mine at Christmas as a gift. The store where the person bought it had sprayed the leaves with some sort of glitter spray, so it was quite sad looking from the start. At present, all but 3 leaves have fallen off and now I have 3 exposed stems. I have no idea how to care for it. I don't want it to die, but I don't know how to help it live either. I reside in the Southern US where it is currently very hot and humid. I set the plant on my porch with my other plants, but I'm not sure if that's what I should have done. Do you have any advice for taking care of this plant in a hot, humid climate where we have only short, mild winters? Thank you for your time.

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