December Plant - Poinsettia
Nicole Stoner typically writes the plant of the month article about outdoor plants, but with Christmas coming, she thought a good plant for December would be the poinsettia - those wonderful red plants we purchase and receive for the holidays. With care and consideration, you can keep your poinsettia and get it to bloom year after year; it doesn’t have to be just an annual you have for the holidays and throw away afterward.
Poinsettia, Euphorbia pulcherrima, is a house plant in Nebraska as it prefers temperatures of 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and around 55 degrees Fahrenheit at night, according to the University of Illinois Extension. This plant has dark green leaves and as a member of the spurge family, has a milky white sap when the stems or leaves are broken. The red “flowers” on poinsettias are actually bracts, which are modified leaves. The flowers are actually the small, yellow centers to those red bracts.
Many varieties of poinsettias are available. The different varieties allow you to purchase many different colors of poinsettias, including the traditional red, as well as white, pink, or burgundy. You also can find varieties with speckled or marbled colorations on their leaves that are usually a mix of red or pink and white. There are many more choices now, so pick your favorite color or pick a few to make a nice arrangement of color in your home for the holidays.
The care of a poinsettia can be tricky as these plants tend to be fussy. Make sure you do not water this plant until the soil has dried out; poinsettias do not like to set in water. However, you need to make sure that you are not waiting until the plant wilts prior to watering, either. When you receive a plant or bring it home from the store, remove the plastic wrap immediately and place the plant in an area where it will get indirect light for 6 hours a day. Keep the plant away from cold drafts and keep it from touching a cold window. Do not fertilize poinsettias during the flowering period. If you plan to keep the poinsettia for next year, you have to take special care of it to get it to bloom again. Starting in late September or early October, place the plant in a completely darkened room or closet from 5pm to 8am daily. Once the bracts begin to show color, in December, you can stop the darkness period.
Poinsettias are commonly considered a poisonous plant, which is not true. The milky sap can cause an allergic reaction in some people who come into contact with it, as is true with all plants in the spurge family. Ohio State University did a research project that showed that a 50-pound child would have to eat more than 500 leaves to have a harmful effect. This probably wouldn’t happen as the leaves have a bad taste. This plant should be kept out of reach of pets though, as ingestion of the leaves can cause vomiting. The leaves were used by the Aztecs as dyes and as a medicine to control fever.
Poinsettias are the most common Christmas plant, according to the University of Illinois Extension. Today it is used as a decoration for the holidays. December 12th is Poinsettia Day, marking the death of Joel Roberts Poinsett, the botanist who first introduced the plant to the United States.
Use poinsettias to celebrate the holidays, Poinsettia Day, or to just enjoy as a plant blooming in December. It doesn’t have to be a plant that blooms for the season and then goes in the trash. If you get a poinsettia for the Holiday season this year, try to keep it around for next year and get it to bloom again. It can be done.