Decorating with poinsettias has become a holiday tradition, making the colorful poinsettia the most popular live Christmas plant in America. Poinsettias are purchased or received as a gift by millions of people every year. A native of Mexico, the poinsettia was brought to the United States more than 170 years ago and popularized here by the first U.S. Minister to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett.
Today poinsettias are available not only in the classic deep red, but also in pink, salmon, orange, creamy white, and marbled colors. The colored portions of the plant are actually leaflike bracts, which surround tiny yellowish-green flowers. The true leaves are usually dark green, but some cultivars have variegated foliage.
If you're buying a poinsettia, look for plants with good bract coloration and unopened central flowers. Never expose poinsettias to cold drafts or excessive heat. If necessary, cover plants while carrying them to and from the car. At home, place your poinsettia in direct sunlight for 3-4 hours per day. Set the room temperature at 65-70 degrees during the day and, if possible, reduce it to 60-65 degrees at night. Keep the soil moist, but not wet, and don't let the plant sit in water that's drained through the pot (remove the foil from the pot if necessary). You can also feed your poinsettias every 7 to 14 days with
Miracle-Gro® Watering Can Singles All Purpose Water Soluble Plant Food.
Photo: wild poinsettias in Central America
A popular myth says that poinsettias are poisonous, but university and hospital research has shown that the plants are not toxic to humans or pets. Like many other plants, they could cause an upset stomach if eaten by a child, dog, or cat, so that should be a consideration when deciding where to place poinsettias in your home.