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Plant of the Week: Poinsettias

Euphorbia pulcherrima

Plant of the Week: Poinsettias

Poinsettias continue to be our favorite Christmas plant. Originating in Mexico, the plant was brought to the U.S. by Joel Robert Poinsett, the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico and an avid Botanist. We use them in the home as décor for our Christmas parties, give them as gifts, and some even plant them in the ground, however precarious for the plant. When placing in the home and preparing for that perfect Christmas party, with all the Holiday festivities, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Plant Characteristics: Poinsettias have emerald green foliage and what many people call the “flowers” of the plant are actually bracts or, modified leaves. If you know what Bougainvillea are, this plant shows off its colors in the same way. Rather than traditional blooms, the leaves will turn color. While in their native habitat Poinsettias can grow up to 10 feet and be shaped like a tree, here in the U.S. we tend to keep them as houseplants and don’t let them grow more than 3-4 feet tall and a foot wide or so. They have an upright growth habit that looks like a small shrub. They can be poisonous to dogs and cats via the sap emitted. The sap is similar to latex so if you are allergic to latex, this sap can cause a mild allergic reaction.

While many people believe that Poinsettias are deadly, this is an urban myth stemming from an account of a child in the 1950s dying from ingesting the leaves. The FACT is, a 50 pound child would have to ingest more than 500 leaves in order to do any harm to a human.

Plant Care: Poinsettias are heavy feeders, meaning they use a lot of fertilizers and require specific amounts of sun and darkness in order to turn the bracts their showy, red color. I would recommend using a slow release fertilizer like Osmocote to feed during the months they are not showing color. They are tropical plants and will be damaged in temperatures dipping into the low 30s so they should be protected from frost and freeze. When watering, allow the top of the soil to dry between watering, and do not oversaturate the medium. When placing indoors, keep in mind that the humidity in your home will decrease with use of heating and air conditioning. A good technique to keep humidity around the plant is to place it in a tray of pea gravel with water in it.

Uses: There is no better use for this plant that at this time of year. Its festive nature lends itself to decoration. They make wonderful centerpieces for your Holiday table or on a mantle while you sip cocoa by the fire. They can be used outdoors as well in the landscape but this is only for more coastal areas of Louisiana. They can be used in festive containers with other annual color draping down the side of the pot or can be used as a standalone plant.

Poinsettias are the most inspiring Holiday plant out there. Reds, pinks, and marbles offer variety to a traditional or non-traditional setting. No matter how you use your Poinsettia, they are sure to add some Christmas spirit to your home. We at Louisiana Nursery wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!