Monday, December 7, 2020

This year more than ever, Poinsettias brighten holiday homes


When we think about “decking the halls” for the holiday season, most of us envision boughs of holly, evergreen wreaths, and fragrant firs or pine. But in addition to traditional greenery, one plant has become a Christmas icon: the poinsettia. With more than 65 million sold each year, this colorful plant has moved from the desert into three-quarters of American homes to become a holiday superstar.

Today more than ever, with the Covid virus dominating our worries and Christmas travel plans cancelled, poinsettias can add touches of welcome color to any house, apartment or dorm room. Best of all, during these tough times, poinsettias are available to fit any budget. I bought a lovely deep red mini poinsettia at the grocery store for $1.98. It's perfect for the kitchen counter. 

The poinsettia is a Euphorbia, a succulent from the arid regions of Central America. It was named after Joel R. Poinsett, a Charleston, S.C. native who was appointed ambassador to Mexico in 1825. Poinsett was a keen gardener who was captivated by the plant’s vivid color. The bright scarlet objects many thought to be “flowers” were not flowers at all, but petal-like leaves called bracts. The actual flowers are those little yellow dots at the center of the bracts.

Because the yellow flowers and attractive bracts emerge during the holiday season, the poinsettia has been a part of Christian celebrations for hundreds of years. In the 17th century, Franciscan priests in Mexico carried poinsettias in nativity processions. The Aztecs were said to have prized the plant for its color and medicinal properties. 

Red is still the fave.
Although poinsettias were well known in Mexico and Central America, it was a family of German immigrants who spied the plants in the desert and created the Christmas favorite we know today.

In the early 1900s, Albert Ecke and his family left Germany to establish a farm in California.  One day his son Paul noticed an unusual plant growing in the wild and decided to develop it as a cut flower. Before long, the family’s fields of poinsettias in Hollywood became a huge tourist attraction.
Of course, the traditional red poinsettia remains the top holiday choice, but interest in white, cream, pink, and mottled varieties is on the increase. In fact, the popularity of the red poinsettia has been steadily falling over the past decade thanks to the introduction of new and more colorful varieties each year. 
This is just wrong!
Along with eye-grabbing new colors (PLEASE no glitter-laden or phony blue varieties!) we can thank breeders for giving us plants that last longer and are more vigorous.

A new addition in the US for 2020 is Christmas Mouse with its unique oval “mouse ear” bracts. It made its debut in Europe last year to rave reviews. Another is Alaska, the whitest poinsettia to date. Its dark green leaves contrast beautifully with the brilliant white
New for 2020, 'Mouse Ears'

Today’s poinsettias aren’t too fussy and are relatively easy to care for. Above all, don’t overwater -- plants should be kept on the dry side but don’t allow them to get bone dry. Keep them away from drafts and sources of heat like a fireplace.

My pick for this holiday season, but I don't know the name

 Poinsettias like bright light and will drop leaves and get leggy in a location that’s too dark. A window will provide the light and cool nighttime temperatures plants need to thrive.

It’s possible to keep a poinsettia alive and blooming from year to year, but like most people, I toss mine out about mid-February. It seems sad and cruel to throw away something that was so lovely during the holidays. But by next Christmas, another showy poinsettia will catch my eye, and this year’s beautiful blooms will be just a happy memory.

I hope your holiday season will be safe and filled with lovely memories, too. And that 2021 will be a happier year for us all.
White poinsettias like 'Alaska' account for 20% of sales

P.S. We’ve all heard the rumors that poinsettias are poisonous. Apparently this urban legend started in 1919 when it was reported that a 2-year-old had died after eating a leaf. According to the American Society of Florists, poinsettias have been tested more than any other plant, and the verdict is they are safe for people and pets. But you still wouldn’t want to eat one.



Beth at PlantPostings said...

Yes, to your title. But we don't have any this year. I do love them, though. I hope your holiday season will be bright and happy, Lynn!

Lynn Hunt said...

Beth, here's hoping your Christmas will be special and that 2021 will be brighter for us all!!

Sunil Patel said...

Hello Lynn, I hope you had a comforting and safe holiday period. We don't get Poinsetias in, at most we might go for indoor Cyclamen to brighten up a windowsill. I do like Poinsettia, but I'm traditional and like the original red (with pointy leaves) as opposed to the others that are being bred.

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