Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima)

Poinsettia - It must be Christmas!

Poinsettia is Christmas, or at least for the majority of people who purchase this seasonal house plant. There are two main reasons why this is the case, the first of which is nice and simple to explain - Poinsettias only flower if given certain light conditions and these are arguably more straight forward to provide as the year draws to a close. Poinsettia house plant with red flowering bracts and green leavesThe second reason is a little more complicated, but possibly more entertaining and definitely more important.

Euphorbia pulcherrima was introduced and brought to America by Joel Roberts Poinsett in 1825(ish) from Mexico therefore it took its common name from Joel's surname. Fast forward 75 years to 1900 and enter the Ecke family who took quite an interest in this plant. They found ways to graft the Poinsettia (a well kept secret until around 20 years ago) to keep it compact and exploited its light requirements to make it bloom out of season. They also developed new strains to keep the plant flowering for a lot longer than it would previously, if people wanted they could now keep them indoors for several months.

But why would they want to keep them indoors in the first place? On top of their horticultural skills they were astute sales people and advertisers, in the second half of the 20th century they sent hundreds and hundreds of free plants to TV studios in the run up to the Christmas festive season. This created demand and encourage the idea that the Poinsettia was a Winter and by association a Christmas flowering house plant. It's not really, but today almost everyone thinks it is.

The Ecke family were so good at what they did, that realistically today you will only be able to buy this plant within a small window lasting 6 weeks, from late November to the end of December. For the rest of the year its like Poinsettia plants do not exist. Poinsettias now come in many different coloursFortunately if you want one during this tight window you won't have to search hard as they are literally sold everywhere in many countries. What a house plant though, as they really do brighten up Winter homes and complement the festive holiday colorings.

Vivid reds and strongly contrasting dark green leaves are the most popular leaf colours you will come across, but if you search a bit harder you can find other named varieties such as "Premium Apricot", "Cinnamon Star" and "Ice Punch". Creams, light orange and pinks are becoming more common so you could have a lot to choose from.


Poinsettia Care Instructions

Light

The weak Winter sunshine is acceptable to most house plants including the Poinsettia, if this can't be provided a spot with good light is desired. Darker areas are okay temporarily but no longer than a few days. Keep away from direct Sunlight at all other times of the year because the sun could scorch the leaves.

Watering

One of the top ways to kill a Poinsettia is by overwatering it. It does not need as much water as you think and in Winter the majority of house plants need very little anyway. Of course it does need some to survive, so wait until the top of the soil dries out before watering again. If the temperature and light conditions described on this page are met then you won't need to do this more than once every 7 days or so. Other conditions will cause this to vary of course so adapt appropriately.

One of the top ways to kill a Poinsettia is by over doing the watering

Humidity

Regular misting is really helpful and can keep the flowering display around for longer. Very dry areas need to be avoided unless you can mist daily.

Feeding

If you're only keeping your Poinsettia over Christmas or until early the following year, feeding can be skipped completely. If you plan for it to stay around for a longer spell you should feed a few times during Spring and Summer with a general fertiliser.

Temperature

Your plant will accept low temperatures although even exposure to a mild frost will kill it. Average consistent warmth is best when in flower, no higher than 22°C / 71 °F and make sure you keep it well away from hot fires and heaters.

Repotting

If you want to keep your Poinsettia after flowering has finished, cut back the stems to about 10cm / 4 inches in Spring and plant in a new container using a fresh potting mix.

Propagation

This is incredibly difficult. Well no, actually it's quite straight forward as you can take stem cuttings relatively easily. The problem is that if the cuttings take you will end up with a lanky looking house plant with none of the original compact appeal. This is another one of those house plants which do not have a natural appearance and instead its looks have been crafted through grafting and chemicals to give its dwarf size. If you want new plants. Buy them.

Speed of Growth

Generally because this is often a Winter house plant the Poinsettia isn't really growing in your home. Although if you have it around at other times of the year it will of course grow and this can be reasonably fast if treated well.

Height / Spread

In theory it's not impossible to find Poinsettias which are up to 2.1m / 7ft tall and of equal width. However almost all commercially sold Poinsettias are dwarfed and compact so it is much more likely you will be familiar with plants that are either super small, perhaps no more than 20 centimeters or 8 inches in height up to 60 centimeters or 24 inches.

Flowers

Several Flowering PoinsettiasWhile Poinsettia's do have flowers, the real beauty is the leaves. The actual flowers are tiny, appearing at the top of the leaf bracts, but they are quite ordinary and on the whole unremarkable. Have a look at the gallery pictures if you want to see a close up view of the flowers.

The leaf bracts which support the flowers however are the desired feature - very vivid in colour, ranging from the traditional reds and whites, plain or spotted and marbled to some new types which are pink or almost orange. The leaf bracts will usually last anything from a couple of months up to 5 months before they fall, meaning you could have amazing colour for all of Winter.

Anything else?

The majority of Poinsettias are thrown away once the leaf bracts fall, treated as a pot plant, a temporary guest in the home if you will. It's however possible to keep them from one year to the next. If you want to try you should wait until the colorful leaves start to fall, then cut the entire plant back to about 10cm / 4 inches and reduce watering significantly until Spring has well and truly arrived.

It will look pretty dull at this point so it might be worth finding a sheltered spot outdoors to free up room inside for more attractive house plants. Water normally and when September approaches keep a close watch on the temperature and bring indoors if even a slight frost is predicted.

Late September, early October bring inside full time to a place where it is warm (around 16 °C / 61 °F) and start providing continuous complete darkness for around 14 hours a day. Outside of this 14 hour period, so for the remaining 10 hours the plant needs bright light, even exposure to direct sunlight can be given at this time in the year.

So 14 hours of total darkness then 10 hours of bright light, again and again. You will need to do this every single day for around two months to start developing the flowering bracts. If you've done it correctly (and your plant is playing nicely) you should start to see these bracts forming towards the end of the two months, if you've timed it right you should have a cheerful looking Poinsettia for Christmas. If not, see My Poinsettia is not re flowering.


Help! My Poinsettia is Dying

Poinsettia Death

This Poinsettia has been over watered or exposed to draughtsLooks gruesome but we'd estimate this is the fate of at least 56% of Poinsettia's each year (maybe - we don't know this for sure, just it's pretty common!). In any case the problem is caused by exposure to draughts (doesn't matter if it was hot or cold air) alternatively it may been given too much water. You need to keep it away from draughty areas and only water your plant once the surface is dry to touch.

Plant quickly turning black

This is likely caused by frost damage. 5°C / 41°F is around the lowest safe temperature, if you go colder the risk of these black stems and leaves increases.

My Poinsettia is not re flowering

It is quite a task to get your Poinsettia to reflower successfully see "anything else". The lightening requirements detailed are compulsory, literally no mistakes can be made otherwise your attempt will fail. Even small slithers of light from a street lamp or from under a door frame can all nullify your efforts and you will need to start the entire process again.

If you've ever been able to reflower your Poinsettia shout out about it in the comments section below, we know people would love to read your experience!


Also on OurHousePlants.com

Credit for the Poinsettia photo with various colours - Article / Gallery - Max Wahrhaftig
Credit for the white Poinsettia photo - Gallery - Max Wahrhaftig
Credit for the close up of the Poinsettia flowers - Article / Gallery - Frank Vincentz


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