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Plant of the Week: Poinsettia

Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) photo credit
If there is one houseplant that has become identified with Christmas, it is the poinsettia.  A native of Mexico's Pacific coast where it grows as a shrub or small tree, it has been associated with Christmas since the 1500s.  Poinsettia was introduced to the US by Joel Poinsett (namesake) in 1825 and Dec 12 was designated as National Poinsettia Day by Congress several years ago.  Over 85% of potted plants sold over the holiday season in the US are poinsettia according to the University of Illinois Extension.

Traditional poinsettia are bright red in color but white and pink are common as well, and many new varieties are appearing each year.  The color in a poinsettia is not from the flowers, but instead from modified leaves called bracts.  The small flowers are yellow and located in the center of a cluster of bracts.  The colored bracts are stimulated by day length & require 14 hours of complete darkness (including electric light) for about 6 weeks to form, making it very hard to get the plants to re-flower at home, but it can be done with a little effort.  One source suggested putting your plant in a dark closet each night and bringing it back out to a bright window each day during the color setting period.

Poinsettia plants are very cold sensitive, so be sure to enclose them in a plastic bag if they need to be transported outside.  In your home, place potted plants so they will receive full sun and are away from cold drafts.  They prefer temps of about 70F during the day & 55-65F at night according to the NDSU Cass County extension.

As a member of the Euphorbia family, the poinsettia has a milky sap that may cause irritation to those with sensitive skin, but it should be noted that it is not deadly if consumed as some would believe.  According to the University of Illinois Extension, "A study at Ohio State University showed that a 50 pound child who ate 500 bracts might have a slight tummy ache."

I hope you celebrated National Poinsettia Day this week by bringing into your home. :)

Happy Holiday Gardening! :)

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