Everyone recognizes Poinsettias as the commonly-gifted Christmas holiday plant, but do you know where they come from? Or how they get those colorful leaves? What about making them last long after the holidays are over? Keep reading to get some enrichment on these popular, festive holiday plants.
History of the Poinsettia
Poinsettias are part of the Euphorbia family, which also includes Crown of Thorns Plant and many succulents, such as Pencil Cactus. They are native to Mexico and are typically used as an attractive outdoor shrub or landscape plant. The name Poinsettia comes from Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Minister to Mexico, who introduced the plant to the United States in 1825.
Poinsettias are popular because of their colorful bracts. Although they are usually red, sometimes you'll see them in light green, orange, pink, marbled, or white. Somewhere between a leaf and a flower, bracts are specialized leaf structures that change to their bright color from the typical dark green after photoperiodism, the developmental responses of plants to the relative lengths of light and dark periods.
In order for Poinsettias to fully develop their colorful bracts, they need total darkness for 12 consecutive hours for at least five days in a row. During the same time period, the plants also require abundant light during the day to achieve the brightest color.
Common care for these holiday plants involves giving them bright, filtered light in a room with south-facing windows. Poinsettias are extremely sensitive to cold temperatures and drafts, so make sure they do not make contact with cold windows and are not placed near forced heat or air vents. These plants like to remain evenly moist, but never soggy. And they will let you know that it's a fine line between the two!
Never let these plants sit in water, but also make sure they do not dry out too much, or remain dry for long periods of time as they will wither and lose their leaves.
Keeping them at a daytime temperature of 68 degrees and a nighttime temperature that is a bit cooler is the way to sustain the colorful bracts for a longer period of time during the holidays.
Once the holidays have passed and the plants start to lose their luster, there are a few steps you can take to get your plant to come back and “re-bloom” in the future. Continue caring for your plant as you have been until about the middle of spring. At that point, the Poinsettia will just be a green plant.
Allow the plant to dry-down and shrivel up a bit. Move it to a cool, darkened location, like a garage or basement. At the end of spring, cut all growth to a couple of inches above the soil and repot it in new soil.
Move it back to a bright, filtered light location, water well, and keep it warm. Feed it with houseplant fertilizer when new growth appears. After about a month, move the plant outside to a shady location, pinching out the new growth in midsummer, before returning it indoors. Once you return the plant to its place indoors, water and feed regularly. In mid-autumn, keep the plant in total darkness between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. each day. It will then re-flower and produce those bright and colorful bracts just in time for the holiday season again!
Now that you are better versed on the history, care, and longevity of this tropical shrubbery, you can practice what you know on the plant you are likely gifted this holiday season. Although these plants are often thought of as a throw-away plant for only seasonal use, you can wow your friends by keeping your Poinsettia thriving year after year!