Six Facts About Poinsettias

Poinsettias are a well-loved variety of houseplant. Their gracious but bold red and green leaves flourish in foil-covered pots in places public and private, augmenting the holiday spirit. Rumored to be poisonous (they’re not), and originating in the exotic Mexican state Morelos, they are simultaneously a plant of intrigue and a common sight. These 6 facts about poinsettias will help you to appreciate and enjoy your plant for years to come. (It can bloom for more than one season!)

A poinsettia in bloom. Photo: jessieagudo7/morguefile.com

1. The red blooms of the poinsettia are bracts, not flowers.

According to the University of Illinois Extension, the showy red blooms of the poinsettia are not flowers. They are modified leaves, otherwise known as “bracts”. The flowers of a poinsettia plant are the small yellow flowers in the center of the bracts. The colorful bracts drop off the plant after the flowers have shed their pollen. For plants that will stay good-looking  longer, select ones whose flowers show little or no yellow pollen.

2. Poinsettias are available in over 100 colors.

While a shade called “Prestige Red” is one of the most frequently purchased cultivars of poinsettia, don’t feel limited to the classic green and red leaved look. Over 100 colors of poinsettia are available, including white, salmon, gold, cream, pink and burgundy.

3. Contrary to popular belief, poinsettias are not fatally poisonous.

Ohio State University's 1971 research proved that poinsettias were only poisonous to rats when the rats ate huge quantities of bracts. However, they are not meant for human or animal consumption. Poinsettias contain a sap that is irritating to animals and to people with latex allergies. Dogs or cats that eat poinsettia leaves or stalks have been known to cough or vomit, though the plants are not fatal to them. Since dogs will often taste new objects in their surroundings, it is best to place poinsettias out of canine reach.  

4. Poinsettias like cooler temperatures, but not too cold.

The experts at Ohio State University Extension suggest keeping your poinsettia at 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and slightly cooler at night. These optimal temperatures promote longer blooming. To avoid leaf drop, keep the poinsettia away from heat sources and drafts.

5. Moderation is the key when watering a poinsettia.

Only water a poinsettia when its soil is dry to the touch. How much water should you add to the pot? Horticulturists from the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service suggest watering until water seeps out the bottom of the drainage holes. Be sure to remove the foil that often covers drainage holes if you have just purchased a poinsettia. Although poinsettias do not like to dry out, they also dislike sitting in water. Empty the water that accumulates in the drip pan that holds the pot.

6. It’s not only possible, but also easy, to reflower a poinsettia year after year.  

The Michigan State University Cooperative Extension Service published a fantastic, simple chart that details how to make a poinsettia reflower. To summarize: In March, simply remove the flower and cut stems to 6 inches. In June, repot the plant in a larger pot. Then plant it (in the pot) outside in your garden. In July, pinch off the lateral shoots. In late August, take the plant inside. From September 20th to December 1st, keep your poinsettia in light from 8 AM to 5 PM only. Keep it in darkness the rest of the time. This will cause the poinsettia to flower by Christmas.

 Updated June 19, 2018.

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