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COLUMN: ‘Tis the season for poinsettias

Rosanne LoParco
Sentinel columnist
Posted 12/25/22

The poinsettia, one of the most recognizable plants, is the top-selling potted plant in the United States.

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COLUMN: ‘Tis the season for poinsettias


The poinsettia, one of the most recognizable plants, is the top-selling potted plant in the United States. The Aztecs 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 plant’s latex sap 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 the plant became established here. National Poinsettia Day is December 12th and recognizes Mr. Poinsett’s contribution to the holiday season.

Modern varieties of this plant are not as fussy to take care of as they used to be.

Today’s poinsettias bloom earlier and last longer. In addition, thanks to plant breeding, poinsettias come in different colors other than the popular red. The modified “leaves” are called bracts and at the center of the bracts are the yellow flowers of the plant. The color of the plant is associated with the leaves and not the flowers. With proper care, you can enjoy poinsettias for many weeks or up to several months.

Plant needs

Poinsettias prefer indirect, natural daylight, at least six 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 F during the day and 60 to 65 degrees F. at night. Poinsettias do not need to be fertilized while they are blooming. Promptly remove any fallen and/or damaged leaves.


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

Other issues

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

Technically, poinsettias are not considered 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. If ingested, any parts of the plants can cause degrees of stomach discomfort. This is why the recommendation is to keep these plants away from pets and small children.

Celebrate National Poinsettia Day by giving a gift of this plant to someone on your holiday list; or better yet, buy one for yourself! Happy holidays!

Cornell Cooperative Extension Oneida County answers home and garden questions which can be emailed to or call 315-736-3394, press 1 and ext. 333. Leave your question, name and phone number. Questions are answered weekdays, 8am to 4pm. Also, visit our website at or phone 315-736-3394, press 1 and then ext.100.


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