History of the Poinsettia
Native to Mexico and Central America, the poinsettia was introduced into the United States in the early 1800s by its namesake, Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Ambassador to Mexico from 1825 - 1829.
The Aztecs put the plant to practical use. From its bracts they extracted a purplish dye for use in textiles and cosmetics. The milky white sap, today called latex, was made into a preparation to treat fevers.
Mexican legend surround the Poinsettia which is known there as Flores de Noche Buena - Flowers of the Holy Night. In the Mexican Christmas tradition, a young girl wished to present a present to baby Jesus, but had no money. The girl, Pepita, could only pick weeds along the road as she went to visit the Christ child. But as she neared the alter in the church to present her Christmas gift, the simple weeds suddenly transformed into the vibrant, beautiful Flores de Noche Buena.
Mexicans also view the Poinsettia as a symbol of the holy Star of Bethlehem. In the Christian tradition, the Star of Bethlehem led the Magi many miles across the desert on their journey to visit the Christ child. It also announced the holy birth to the shepherd and others. The yellow flowers at the center are surrounded by the brilliant red bracts, or modified leaves, and resemble large stars.
Poinsettias represent different symbols to different cultures. The Aztecs originally considered them symbols of purity, the Mexican people later viewed them as the holy star, and modern symbolism for the plant includes a wish for good cheer, success and celebration. Poinsettias are the birth flower for December babies.
By an Act of Congress, December 12 was set aside as National Poinsettia Day. The date marks the death of Joel Roberts Poinsett.
The widespread belief that poinsettias are poisonous is a misconception. Studies conducted by The Ohio State University in cooperation with the Society of American Florists concluded that no toxicity was evident at experimental ingestion levels far exceeding those likely to occur in a home environment. In fact, in 1992, the poinsettia was included on the list of houseplants most helpful in removing pollutants from indoor air.
The poinsettia is a safe and beautiful addition to your holiday decor, it can even help keep your indoor air clean!
Caring for your Poinsettia & Getting it to Rebloom
Poinsettias have been a Christmas tradition for gift-giving and holiday decorating for generations. After the holidays many of these plants end up in the trash. Poinsettias will not only make a lovely indoor plant all year, but can re-bloom again each year in time for Christmas.
Poinsettias prefer bright, indirect sunlight and humid conditions. Mist your plant if your home is dry due to heating or climate. Let the soil dry out between watering. The soil should be dry to the touch. Do not let the pot stand in water. Place a layer of pebbles in the saucer. This keeps the plant out of the water and increases the humidity around the plant. Don't place plants near cold drafts or excessive heat. Avoid placing plants near appliances, fireplaces or heating ducts. Room temperatures between 68 - 70° are ideal for poinsettias. Fertilize the poinsettia only after it is bloomed out not when the plant is in bloom.
By late March or early April, cut your poinsettia back to about 8" in height. Continue a regular watering program, and fertilize your plant with a good, balanced all-purpose fertilizer. By the end of May, you should see vigorous new growth.
After all chance of frost has passed and night temperatures average 55° or above, place your plant outdoors, in the warmth of spring. Continue regular watering during the growth period, and fertilize every 2 to 3 weeks.
Pruning may be required during the summer to keep plants bushy and compact. Late June or early July is a good time for this step, but be sure not to prune your plant later than September 1. Keep the plants in indirect sun and water regularly.
In the beginning of June, you may transplant your poinsettia into a larger pot. It is highly recommended to use a good soil mix with organic matter.
The poinsettia sets its buds and produces flowers as the Autumn nights lengthen. Poinsettias will naturally come into bloom during November or December, depending on the flowering response time of the individual cultivar.
Starting October 1, the plants must be kept in complete darkness for 14 hours each night during October, November and early December. Accomplish this by moving the plants to a totally dark room, or by covering them overnight with a large box.
When you bring the plant out in December, make sure to give the poinsettias 6 - 8 hours of bright sunlight daily, with night temperatures between 60 - 70° F. Temperatures outside of this range could also delay flowering.
Continue the normal watering and fertilizer program. If you carefully following this regime for 8 to 10 weeks the result in a colorful display of blooms for the holiday season!