It's the most popular Christmas plant: the poinsettia. Churches and homes are filled with these colorful plants during December, but what are they?
Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) as we see them today are somewhat different from the plant that is native to Mexico. Joel R. Poinsett, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, saw the plant and introduced it to the United States. Horticulturist William Prescott named the plant in Poinsett's honor. The Ecke family of California started producing this plant in their greenhouse and bred it into the showy Christmas plant we all know.
Poinsettias may have red, white or pink bracts. The colorful bracts are not flowers, but modified leaves. The flowers are in the center of the bracts. However, it is for the bracts that people buy poinsettias. The red color varies from a deep, velvety burgundy to a lighter scarlet. The pink varieties may be anywhere from carnation pink to fuchsia, while white poinsettias are usually more of a rich cream, often with a green or pink tinge.
For beautiful poinsettias that will last the entire Christmas season, a person should look for a plant that has deep green foliage, and is full and attractive from every side. The bracts should be fully colored, with no green at the edges. Plants should be perky, not wilting or droopy, with no yellowed or fallen leaves. To keep the colored bracts beautiful for a while, the owner should place the plant in a sunny window, but should not allow the leaves or bracts to touch the cold windowpane. The ideal daytime temperatures for poinsettias range from 60 to 70°F (16-21°C), without keeping the plant too warm or too cold.
Poinsettias can be kept long after Christmas, but they may or may not flower again. Special care is required for the plant to re-flower. Flowers begin to form in the fall when long nights are common, so a person may need to keep the plant in total darkness from about 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. the next morning. Reflowering instructions are available online. The colorful poinsettia is always a welcome addition to any Christmas décor, and with proper care, can continue to please the eye long after Christmas ends.