TRUE FLOWER — This Associated Press file photo shows a poinsettia’s true flowers — the small, rounded structures at the very tips of the stems — which aren’t as showy as its red bracts, but are quite fascinating under a magnifying glass. (Lee Reich via AP)

Celebrate the holidays with poinsettias

Published Dec 2, 2018 at 9:00am

It’s not the holiday season without poinsettias, the top-selling flowering potted plant in the United States. The Aztecs actually cultivated this plant in Mexico, long before Europeans came to the Western Hemisphere.

The Aztecs used the bracts of the plant for a purple dye and the latex sap from the plant to fight fevers. Joel Poinsett, a botanist and the first U.S. Minister to Mexico, sent some plants to his home in South Carolina and it became established here.

National Poinsettia Day is December 12 and recognizes Mr. Poinsett’s contribution to the holiday season.

Modern varieties of this plant are now bred to last a lot longer in the home, bloom earlier, and are not as fussy as they used to be. In addition, these plants aren’t only red! Thanks to plant breeding, there are multiple colors.

The modified “leaves” are called bracts and at the center of the bracts are the flowers of the plant. Gardeners associate the color of the plant with the leaves, and not the flowers.

With a little attention, most poinsettias can keep their color into March or April.  

Cultural requirements.

This plant prefers indirect, natural daylight, at least 6 hours a day. Avoid direct sun as this may fade the color.

Consider a window shade or a sheer curtain to diffuse the light. This plant is sensitive to temperature fluctuations. Do not place the plants near a heat source and protect from drafts. Ideal temperatures are about 70 degrees during the day and 60 to 65 degrees at night. Remove any fallen or damaged leaves promptly. Poinsettias do not need to be fertilized while they are blooming.


Poinsettias need moderately moist soil. Try to check your plants every day and water thoroughly whenever the soil feels dry to the touch. Do not allow the plant to sit in standing water; this is the major cause of death for this plant. If the container is wrapped with foil or paper, remove it when watering and check the container to be sure it has drainage holes.

Discard any collected water that is left on saucers or plates before you place the foil paper back on the container.  

Proper temperature.

These plants are also sensitive to temperatures. If you are delivering a plant as a gift, be sure the plants are well wrapped or sleeved for the trip, especially if the temperatures are approaching 35 degrees. Remove the plastic cover promptly to prevent the slender stalks of the plant of bending downward which can stress the plant.  

Not poisonous.

Technically, this plant is not poisonous. However, there can be issues if the plant is consumed or if the sap comes in contact with the skin. The plant has a milky, latex-like sap that can irritate the skin or the eyes. In addition, all parts of the plants can cause various degrees of stomach discomfort if ingested. This is why the recommendation is to keep these plants away from pets and small children to insure that no parts of the plant are eaten or that they don’t come in contact with the sap.  

It is possible to get your poinsettias to re-bloom next Christmas. However, it can be a challenging process and it depends on the type of poinsettia you purchased. For example, single-stemmed varieties, which are non-branching, do not re-flower very well and are best discarded after blooming.

So, celebrate National Poinsettia Day on December 12 and give the gift of a plant this holiday season! For more gardening information, visit our website at or 315-736-3394.