Tuesday, November 15, 2016 at 7:49 PM
Poinsettias aren't just red anymore. Over the years the growers have been busy hybridizing poinsettia plants and there are now over 100 varieties. Poinsettia plants come in a wide variety of colors including white, coral, burgundy, pink, and fuchsia. They can be spotted, marbled or speckled. Some of the hybrids have braided trunks and others are formed into topiaries. Growers start them in hanging baskets with plants coming out the top and the sides of the basket so that they make a perfect centerpiece. Some are shaped into bushes and some into trees. New varieties, like Winter Rose, have bracts that curl under so that they resemble a large rose bloom. There's definitely a color and shape for every home decor.
Today's hybrids don't bare much resemblance to the indigenous plants from Mexico and Central America. Those poinsettias often reach heights of 12 to 15 feet on spindly stems with red bracts sprouting at the top. Naturalized poinsettias without care grow in wild abandon in the alleys in southern California and Florida. We've seen them on our hikes in Peru and the Andes. Probably the most memorable were the ones we saw while hiking the Annapurna Sanctuary in the Himalayas. We'd round a corner and there would be the most breathtaking view of the sacred "fishtail" spire of 22,943 foot Machapuchare with a red poinsettia blooming in the foreground.
The Ecke family of Southern California has been growing poinsettias for over three generations. They are probably the growers that are the most responsible for today's compact, beautiful poinsettias in vibrant colors. Through careful grafting, fertilizing, pruning, and light and temperature control, they have made the poinsettia plant synonomous with Christmas.
The showy colored part that we associate with a poinsettia is really a bract or a modified leaf. The actual flower is the small yellow cyathia in the middle of the bracts. When buying a poinsettia always look for yellow flowers that are just developing. When the flowers start to shed their pollen, the bracts and leaves of the plant will start to drop. Poinsettias that haven't developed pollen will keep their color for a long, long time.
Contrary to the popular myth, poinsettias are not poisonous. However, poinsettia, Euphorbiaceae pulcherrima, is part of the Spurge family and, like many of the Euphorbias, when a stem is broken it will ooze a milky sap. Some people, especially those with latex allergies, have been known to have a skin reaction after touching the sap. Pets have also been known to have a mild reaction and nausea and vomiting from ingesting the sap. It's always best to keep children and animals from eating new house plants of any kind as they may have been sprayed with chemical fertilizers, pesticides or fungicides.
Poinsettias are easy to grow. They do best in bright light with normal house temperatures from 60 to 70 degrees. The plants soil should be allowed to dry to the touch between waterings. Poinsettia plants don't like to have wet feet so make sure that their pot isn't sitting in water.
If you want to get your poinsettia to bloom again it's just a matter of getting the lighting requirements right. Poinsettias are plants that bloom in response to seasonal changes in day length, a property known as photoperiodism. They require uninterrupted darkness for 12 hours at a time. Starting next October 1st make sure that your poinsettia plant gets bright light from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m, and that it is in total darkness from 5 p.m. until 8 a.m. the next morning. If you continue to make sure it gets that much uninterrupted darkness every 24 hours, the bracts should start to color by the middle of December.