Poinsettias: America’s Favorite Houseplant

With the Christmas season comes a spike in poinsettia sales, making it America’s favorite houseplant. Here are some ways to keep your poinsettia thriving.

  • Poinsettias are thoroughly tropical, and have absolutely no cold tolerance.
    Photo courtesy www.RareSeeds.com
  • In their native Mexican forests, poinsettias naturally come into bloom in time for Christmas.
    Photo by Fotolia/Chris Hill
  • Position your poinsettias near a window facing the sun. North-facing windows don’t offer enough light to keep a poinsettia happy.
    Photo courtesy www.RareSeeds.com
  • Poinsettia leaves cluster around the true flowers, insignificant little yellow bulb-like structures some growers call berries.
    Photo courtesy www.RareSeeds.com

America loves poinsettias. We buy over 75 million of them each Christmas season, spending more than a quarter of a billion dollars in a very short season running from shortly before Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. In those six weeks, we buy more poinsettias than the number two and three plants, orchids, and African violets in an entire year.

It’s easy to see why. Poinsettias bring at least as much color to the Christmas season as the strings of lights that set the nights ablaze. They offer a spectrum of colors: deep crimson, burgundy, scarlet, salmon, hot pink, ivory, cream, white, and lime green. If you don’t mind a little airbrush trickery, you can even buy blue or purple poinsettias, complete with glitter.

Want flash without the ‘cheat?’ Variegated blooms may be just what you’re looking for. You can select speckled pink and salmon, party-color red and ivory, marbled pink and cream, red on white, green on white or just about any other color combination.

The flower ‘petals’ can take on several different shapes as well. They aren’t really petals at all, but specialized leaves called ‘bracts.’ These leaves cluster around the true flowers, insignificant little yellow bulb-like structures some growers call ‘berries.’ Poinsettia leaves typically have a lanceolate, or spearhead shape. Variations display a toothed leaf reminiscent of holly. Newest to the family, ‘Christmas Rose’ forms show off ruffled or crumpled bracts, resembling a rose.

There’s even a size for every location, from dainty single stem, single bloom plants in four-inch pots to bushy twelve-inch pots filled to bursting with three or four multi-bloom poinsettias each.  For even more punch, consider a poinsettia hanging basket spilling over with blooms; or maybe an upright tree standard is more to your liking. Poinsettias even serve well in cut flower arrangements.

Poinsettias are daylight sensitive, blooming only when the days grow short and the nights are long, one reason why they’re a Christmas favorite. In their native Mexican forests, they naturally come into bloom in time for Christmas. In greenhouses and homes, they need 12 hours of uninterrupted darkness a day, for at least five days in a row, plus bright light each day to bloom. The slightest bit of stray light during those five nights can completely reset the plants’ internal clock and cancel the flowering sequence. How slight? The stray high beams of a passing car, a nearby lamppost, even a reading lamp switched on for a moment can spell disaster to the blooming process.



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