10 things you want to know about poinsettia plants – Daily Breeze

If you’ve been seeing red lately, it might be because it’s poinsettia season, when the brightly colored plants seem to be everywhere. In fact, some sources say that it’s the most popular plant sold in America (followed by mums and orchids) while others say it’s simply the most popular holiday plant. In any event, you’ll find millions of them everywhere in December, maybe even in your own home.

Here are some other things you might not know about our favorite holiday plant:

  • Leaves, not flowers: The pretty red portions of the plant we enjoy are actually a type of leaves called brachts. The flowers are the tiny yellow clusters in the center.
  • Choices abound: There are now more than 100 varieties of poinsettia in numerous colors but, as Christmas approaches, red is still the most popular, according to Teleflora.com
  • Mexican beauties: Poinsettias are native to Mexico, where they’re called “Flor de Nochabuena,” (Christmas Eve flower) because that’s when they typically bloom. Many southern Mexican gardens have a large Nochebuena bush in the yard. The flower was known in Aztec times,  when it was used to make dye and its sap as medicine.
  • And here’s the legend: A Mexican legend tells of a young girl who had nothing to bring to church to give the baby Jesus at Christmas, so she picked some weeds as a bouquet. The weeds were miraculously changed into poinsettias as she knelt at the altar. Needless to say, that was considered a memorable event that cemented the use of them as a Christmas flower.
  • How to pick your plant: When you’re selecting your plant, avoid those with green around the edges of the brachts. Also avoid those with yellow pollen from the flowers; it means the plants are past their prime. Ideally, the flowers should be green and just about to bud.
  • Is it healthy?: Look for a plant that’s twice as high as the pot is wide and looks healthy. Plants that aren’t squished together in a display are likely healthier. Stick your hand underneath the decorative packaging to see if the plant is getting waterlogged.
  • Avoid breaking them on the way home: Keep in mind that poinsettias are tropical plants from southern Mexico. They’re fragile, so get a plastic sleeve to bring home in your car, if available, to avoid breakage.
  • It’s a little finicky: Poinsettias, like other beautiful things, are a bit finicky. They’re damaged when the thermometer dips below 50 degrees. Their favorite temperature range is 65-75 degrees. They want to be watered, but can get root rot from overwatering. Keep the soil moist but not wet. They like bright light, but don’t want to be in a hot window. Don’t put them near a heating vent. Ideally, days should be warm and nights cool.
  • How did they get here?: Poinsettias were named after Joel Poinsett, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico. He brought the plants to this country in 1828, raised them in his South Carolina greenhouse as gifts for his friends and promoted their use, according to the California Pionsettia Growers website.
  • You can plant them in your garden: Poinsettias will grow into bushes in your garden as high as 10 feet. However, frost will kill them and they need to be pruned. If you want them to develop brightly colored brachts toward Christmas time, they need total darkness from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m., so don’t plant them next to garden lights.

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