Extension Educator, Horticulture
The winter holiday season would be incomplete without the bright red of poinsettias. Joseph Poinsett, U.S. ambassador to Mexico in the late 1800's, was responsible for sending the poinsettia to the United States. He admired the plant's beautiful red bracts appearing naturally during the Advent season in the hills of Mexico. What a coincidence he would find a plant with the same name as his! Actually William Prescott, a historian and horticulturist, coined the name poinsettia in honor of Poinsett's introduction.
The history of the poinsettia would be incomplete without mention of the Ecke family. Through four family generations, the Ecke's have grown, marketed and hybridized poinsettias. The Paul Ecke Ranch in California, under the direction of Paul Ecke III, continues to grow over 80 percent of poinsettias in the United States for the wholesale market. Ninety percent of all the flowering poinsettias in the world got their start at the Paul Ecke Ranch.
ThePoinsettia Pages of our urban programs website offer these tips on selecting a healthy poinsettia:
Check the poinsettia's maturity. The showy colored part of poinsettias that most people think are the flowers are actually colored bracts (modified leaves). Check the small true flowers located at the base of the colored bracts. If the true flowers are green or red-tipped and fresh looking, the bloom will "hold" longer than if yellow pollen is covering the flowers.
Choose a plant with dark green foliage down to the soil line. Choose bracts (modified leaves) that are completely colored. Do not purchase poinsettias with a lot of green around the bract edges.
Do not choose plants with fallen or yellowed leaves or ones that are wilted or drooping.
The poinsettia should look full, balanced and attractive from all sides. The plant should be 2 1/2 times taller than the diameter of the container.
Do not purchase plants that are displayed in paper or plastic sleeves or crowded close together. Plants held in sleeves will deteriorate quickly. Crowding can cause premature bract loss.
Check the plant's soil. If it's wet and the plant is wilted, this could be an indication of root rot. When you take the poinsettia home, be sure to have it sleeved or covered when outdoor temperatures are below 50°F.
How long your poinsettia will last in your home or office is dependent on the maturity of the plant, when you buy it, and how you treat the plant. With care, poinsettias should retain their beauty for weeks and some varieties will stay attractive for months.
Once you get your poinsettia home, unwrap it carefully and place in a sunny window. Keep the plant from touching cold windows. Keep poinsettias away from warm or cold drafts from radiators, air registers or open doors.
Ideally poinsettias require daytime temperatures of 60–70°F and nighttime temperatures around 55°F. High temperatures will shorten the plant's life. Move the plant to a cooler room at night, if possible.
Check the soil daily. Be sure to punch holes in foil so water can drain into a saucer. Water when soil is dry. Allow water to drain into the saucer and discard excess water. Fertilize the poinsettia if you keep it past the holiday season. Apply a houseplant fertilizer once a month.
There are some lovely new cultivars that are durable and provide a long show. An exciting new cultivar series is 'The Winter Rose'. After 30 years of breeding work at the Paul Ecke Ranch, Franz Fruehwirth commercialized the first dark-leafed, Curly" style poinsettia 'The Winter Rose'. It is quite lovely with colors of dark red, white, pink and the mottled red and pink called 'Jingle Bells'.
Remember December 12 is National Poinsettia Day, so take your poinsettia to lunch.