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Garden Tales: The Poinsettia

Updated on November 13, 2012

The Poinsettia






When I think of Christmas and the holiday season there are, besides the tree and lights, two things that seem to always have been there. No not presents, the red delicious apple and the poinsettia. Today, well for a few years now you can buy red delicious apples all year round so it is only the poinsettia that comes out at this time of year to herald the coming season.

The poinsettia has been brightening the Christmas season in North America since the 1960s. It is much older than that but that is the approximate point that the plant that decorates so many homes was developed.

There is a poinsettia folktale that deserves to be shared. The tale is Mexican in origin and tells the story of a poor Mexican girl who had no gift to present to the Christ child at the Christmas Eve service.

While she was walking to church she picked the weeds that were growing along the path as she had no other gift. When she arrived at church and walked towards the altar the bouquet of weeds turned into the brilliant red blossoms we see so often during the Christmas season. The transformation took place, so it is told, because she approached the altar with reverence and love.

December 12 is National Poinsettia Day in the United States. This day honours the death of Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first U. S. ambassador to Mexico, who shipped cuttings of the native Mexican plant to his Greenville, South Carolina greenhouse.

If you are planning to purchase or already have done so a poinsettia, there are a few things you need to know. If the flower heads are dropping off or the leaf margins are turning yellow or brown it is likely reason is dry air in a warm room. The leaves need to be misted regularly.


A sure sign of over watering is the plant’s leaves will wilt and then drop; it is likely that you have given it too much water. Do not water until the surface of the soil is dry.


On the other hand if wilting does not happen but the leaves drop anyway then the temperature is too low or the plant has experienced too much heat or cold; a third possibility is that the plant is not getting enough light.


Planning to save your plant for next year? Then you need to:


- cut stems when leaves have fallen down to 10 centimeters (4 inches)

- keep soil moist and dry and place plant in mild, shady spot

- in early May water and repot

- remove some old soil

- continue watering

- remove some of new growth leaving 4-5 strong new stems

- careful light control is important as September ends

- cover with black poly bag from early evening

- remove in morning, plant must be in total darkness for 14 hours

- continue routine daily for 5 weeks then treat normally for season.



Follow the routine as it is set out, otherwise, while the plant will still produce leaves it may not bloom and though the foliage is attractive, the bloom is why the poinsettia is so popular.


If you are setting out to purchase a poinsettia then here are some tips:

  • Look for plants with fully mature, thoroughly colored bracts.
  • Select plants with an abundance of dark, rich green foliage all the way down the stem. The leaves and bracts should not be drooping.
  • Look for plants that are balanced, full and attractive from all sides.

Be sure to select durable plants with stiff stems, good bract and leaf retention, and no signs of wilting, breaking or drooping.


You can enjoy the seasonal beauty of this plant if you follow these guidelines.




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