Poinsettia is Christmas, or at least for the majority of people who purchase this seasonal easy and beautiful houseplant. There are three main reasons why this is the case, the first of which is nice and simple to explain - the red and green of the plant are perfect traditional Christmas colours so suit multiple colour schemes at this time of year.
Secondly Poinsettias only flower if given certain light conditions and these are arguably more straight forward to provide as the year draws to a close. The final reason is a little more complicated, but possibly more important and definitely more entertaining.
Euphorbia pulcherrima was introduced and brought to America by Joel Roberts Poinsett in 1825(ish) from Mexico therefore the plant took its common name of Poinsettia 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 was natural, if people wanted they could now keep them indoors for several months.
But why would anyone want to keep them indoors in the first place? On top of their horticultural skills the Ecke family 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 encouraged the idea to anyone watching the TV show that the Poinsettia was a Winter Christmas flowering houseplant. Naturally, it's really not , but today almost everyone thinks it is.
The Ecke family were so good at what they did, that realistically you will only be able to buy this plant within a small window lasting 8 weeks, from November to the end of December. For the rest of the year its like Poinsettia plants do not exist. Fortunately if you want one during this tight window you won't have to search hard as they're literally sold everywhere in many countries. What a houseplant though, as they do brighten up Winter homes and complement the festive holiday colorings perfectly.
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 of Poinsettia such as "Premium Apricot", "Cinnamon Star" and "Ice Punch". Creams, light orange and pinks are becoming more common so you may have a lot to choose from.
The weak Winter sunshine is acceptable and enjoyed by most houseplants including the Poinsettia. If this can't be provided a spot with good light is needed. 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 can scorch the leaves.
One of the top ways to kill a Poinsettia is by overwatering it. It doesn't need as much water as you think and in Winter the majority of houseplants 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.
One of the top ways to kill a Poinsettia is by over doing the watering
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.
If you're only keeping your Poinsettia over Christmas or until early the following year, feeding can be skipped completely. If you plan to keep it alive for longer you should feed a few times during Spring and Summer with a general fertiliser.
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.
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.
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 houseplant with none of the original compact appeal. This is another one of those houseplants which do not have a natural appearance when grown for indoor use 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 houseplant the Poinsettia isn't actually 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
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's much more likely you'll 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.
While Poinsettia's do have flowers, the real beauty in this plant are the leaves. The actual flowers are tiny, appearing at the top of the leaf bracts, but they're 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 actual 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.
Is the Poinsettia Poisonous?
The Poinsettia has a mild level of toxicity that can sometimes cause problems if eaten by cats, dogs or people. However the symptoms from ingesting this plant are usually only mild. The main issue tends to be the sap contained within the leaves and stems that can cause a mild irritation or a slight rash.
How long can you keep a Poinsettia alive? The majority of Poinsettias are thrown away once the leaf bracts fall, so treated as a pot plant, or a temporary guest in the home if you will. But it's actually 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 houseplants. 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'll 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.
Looks gruesome but we'd estimate this is the fate of at least 80% of Poinsettia's each year. The problem is normally caused by exposure to draughts (it doesn't matter if it was hot or cold air) alternatively it may have been given too much water. You'll need to keep it away from draughty areas and only water your plant once the surface is dry to touch.
Plant is 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 black stems and leaves increases.
It's 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 ruin your efforts and you'll 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 and learn from your experiences!
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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