Plants - Indoor Plants

Poinsettias: From Mexican shrub to holiday star

Anne Marie Van Nest

Care tips and a look at the interesting background of this festive favourite


There are more than 100 cultivars of poinsettias ranging from the traditional red to pink, orange, pale green, cream, white, speckled, marbled, double and ruffled types. Even with all the unique cultivars, the majority of people (75 per cent) still prefer the traditional red colour (and in North America this is a bluish-red, while in Europe the norm is an orange-red).  Next popular, with 10 per cent are those who prefer white and then five per cent pink. One new artificial technique are the fantasy colours resulting in blue, plum, turquoise, yellow or orange spray-painted plants.

Keeping your plant alive

“Reflowering” for a second Christmas is not impossible; it just takes time and effort. Poinsettias are short day plants and triggering leaf colouration requires about two months of uninterrupted long, dark nights in the fall.  Any light that reaches the plant at night is likely to interrupt this blooming preparation cycle. Most plants will turn colour after 10 weeks of complete darkness (from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. daily).

Care tips

Poinsettias have “toughened” up significantly in recent years.  They no longer wilt, shrivel and drop their leaves so fast at a hint of a cold draft.  Keep them warm, away from direct sunlight, and moist (not wet) for the healthiest plant. When purchasing a plant, select the freshest ones that have dark green lower leaves that are not wilted, completely coloured bracts and with many flowers present.

Poinsettia myths

Many believe that a two-year-old child died in 1919 after consuming a poinsettia leaf, but this is just a myth. Poinsettia leaves are not toxic, but they may cause an allergic reaction from the latex for those that are sensitive. If the plant is eaten, poinsettias will sometimes cause diarrhea and vomiting, but only in mild cases.

Image: istock/zmacgal


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