As one of the most beloved holiday houseplants, poinsettias have long been a symbol of Christmas. The intense red hue of their bracts is cohesive with decorative schemes across the globe. Poinsettias are so popular, the U.S. Congress has given them a national day which falls on December 12th. Aside from their natural beauty, the tale of their significance is also a part of the Christmas tradition.
Significance of the Poinsettia
The importance of the poinsettia at Christmas originates from a story of a young girl in a poor Mexican village. The girl, Pepita, was walking to church on Christmas Eve, filled with sadness as she had no money to bring a gift to offer the baby Jesus. Her cousin, Pedro, reassured her that even a humble gift would be acceptable in His eyes, as long as it was given with love.
Feeling encouraged, Pepita gathered a handful of weeds from the roadside to form a bouquet. But, as she laid her gift beside the more luxurious items by the manger, she felt more embarrassed than ever. Then, something magical happened – the weeds transformed into a bouquet of brilliant red blooms before her eyes. The poinsettia was born.
From that day on, these crimson flowers have bloomed along Mexican roadsides each year during Christmas time. In Mexico, these flowers are known as Flores de Noche Buena, or Flowers of the Holy Night.
Choosing a Poinsettia
The best way to make your poinsettia last throughout the holiday season is to choose a healthy, vibrant plant from the start. First, take a look at the plant’s leaves. If you notice any yellowing or curling of the lower foliage, you’d better keep searching. These symptoms are likely caused by improper watering and root rot, so you’d be taking home an already-doomed plant.
Look for a poinsettia that has been grown in cool conditions. Although it takes more time and resources to grow it this way, you’ll certainly see a difference in the plant’s appearance. Many gardeners opt to grow them in the warmth, thinking it’s more efficient, but this results in a tall, straggly plant with a pale color. Find one with deeply-colored leaves and a broad, bushy habit.
The vibrant, red pieces of the poinsettia aren’t actually the flowers of the plant – they’re called bracts. The inner, yellow cluster is actually the flower part! Flowers of younger plants will still be tightly nestled in a bud, or open with yellow tips. If you see any blackened tips, keep walking – the plant is nearing the end of its time.
When you take your poinsettia home for the holidays, wrap it well with a sleeve. As tropical plants, they don’t tolerate the cold weather very well.
The worst thing you can do for your poinsettia is love it too much – we know, it’s hard not to! As a tropical plant, many people assume that it needs a lot of water. However, over-watering is the most common problem when it comes to poinsettias. Too much water leads to root rot, which will kill the plant.
Allow the soil surface to completely dry out before watering it again. Don’t let these holiday house guests sit with their feet wet – a good host will empty the saucer soon after watering. Luckily, you’ll know if you’re giving them too much love if their lower leaves begin to droop or yellow.
Poinsettias don’t like to be cold and their leaves will freeze if they’re kept near drafty doors or cold windows. They also don’t like exposure to heat from furnaces or vents, which dries them out. While they don’t like poorly insulated windows, they still need lots of bright light, so keep them somewhere just far enough away that they can peek outside. Yes, they’re a little demanding, but these holiday favorites are worth it. Just like the little ones around our tables, their finickiness doesn’t keep us from loving them!
Speaking of children, you’ll be happy to know the old claim that poinsettias are poisonous is just a myth. They’re definitely safe to have in the house around small kids and pets alike.
With a heartwarming backstory and a stunning appearance, it’s easy to see why poinsettias are one of the most popular holiday plants. As long as you pick a healthy plant and give it a little (but not too much) TLC, you can enjoy this Christmas treasure long after the holidays have ended.