Perfect Poinsettias

This time of the year sees the arrival of the Christmas Poinsettias with their brightly coloured bracts.  Traditionally these are red, but other colours such as white, pink and even yellow have become popular in recent years.  A Poinsettia is an ideal Christmas gift for a loved one or friend, bringing a festive feeling to the home.   

Poinsettia history:

Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are members of the spurge family that are used to decorate the home during the festive season.  They are native to Mexico and Central America, growing in wooded ravines and on rocky hillsides.  

The Christmas tradition of the Poinsettia can be traced back to the 17th century in the small Mexican town of Taxco de Alarcon and the story of the Franciscan monks who used them in their Nativity processions.  At around the same time the Mexican legend of Pepita and the "Flowers of the Holy Night" also began.  The legend says that a young girl called Pepita was on her way to visit the Nativity scene at the chapel.  As she did not have enough money to buy a gift for the baby Jesus, she gathered a bundle of roadside weeds and made a bouquet.  Although she was upset that she didn't have much to offer, her cousin reminded her that "even the most humble gift, given in love, will be acceptable in his eyes."  When Pepita entered the chapel and presented her bouquet of weeds they miraculously turned into a bouquet of beautiful red flowers known to the locals as Cuetlaxochitl.  

Almost two hundred years later a U.S Ambassador to Mexico and passionate botanist named Joel Roberts Poinsett was the first person to introduce the Poinsettia to the United States.  Visiting the Taxco area of Mexico on a diplomatic trip. he wandered into the countryside where he found a plant with the most captivating brilliant red leaves.  He began shipping plants back to his home in South Carolina where he started to study and cultivate them.  Joel began sharing his plants with friends around Christmas time when the upper leaves had turned red.  As the plant’s reputation grew, they were soon being cultivated by their botanical name of Euphorbia pulcherrimaby by Robert Buist who was a Pennsylvania nurseryman.    

Around 1836 the plant was formally given the name Poinsettia and they have remained a part of the festive holiday tradition.

Protection from cold:

Poinsettias are easy to look after as long as you remember the golden rule, which is that they don’t like cold or draughts.  Our Poplar Nurseries Poinsettias are from a local grower where they are given protection from the cold at all times, especially during transportation.

When you purchase your chosen Poinsettia for a loved one or your own home, you can be assured that it will be carefully wrapped for it’s journey home as cold outdoor temperatures can damage the foliage.  Care instructions are available to ensure that you get the most enjoyment from your plant.  

For best results:

Sonya (our houseplant manager) advises to use room temperature water for best results.  Overwatering can damage these plants, so it is therefore best to wait for the surface of the compost to begin to dry out before watering.  

Poinsettias require bright, but filtered light and a minimum temperature of 13-15°C (55-59°F).  A low nitrogen, high potassium fertiliser should be used to feed the Poinsettia monthly, which is available from our Houseplant Department.  

After flowering:

Poinsettias flower from December to January and once the flowers fade, many are disposed of.  They can, however, be kept and encouraged to flower again the following year.  Prune the plant back to approximately 10cm and keep it a 13°C.  Repot in early May into three parts John Innes No 3 to one part grit and grow over the summer in a light, cool place, ideally at a temperature of 15-18°C.  Short winter day-length is required for the bracts to colour up and to achieve this the plant should be placed in a dark room and protected from any artificial light sources after twelve hours of daylight each day.  They also require a constant temperature of about 18°C for good colour.  

Note: Avoid contact with the Poinsettia's milky sap as it may cause skin and eye irritation.