You know it’s Christmastime when Poinsettias, also called Euphorbia, arrive at your local garden center. Known as the Christmas Star for its star-shaped petals, the poinsettia plant is native to Mexico and Central America where it grows as a shrub or small tree that can reach heights of 2 to 16 feet. The poinsettia plant’s, pointed, bright red “flowers” are actually elongated, modified leaves called bracts. The actual flowers, or cyathia, are quite tiny and can be found hidden in small clusters among the bright yellow structures in the center of each leaf clump.
In their natural habitat, most poinsettias display brilliant red leaves, but leaves may also be cream, pink, pale green, salmon orange or white in color. Some poinsettias feature streaks of white and red that paint leaves with a beautiful marbled effect. If you want to add extra sparkle to holiday décor, poinsettias are also available with glittered leaves.
In Mexico, poinsettia plants are called Noche Buena which means Good Night and refers to Christmas Eve. The Aztecs used the poinsettia’s brilliantly colored leaves to make red dye. This unusual plant was introduced into America in 1828 by the first U.S. Minister to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett, from whom its English name is derived. Poinsett later went on to found the organization that would become the Smithsonian.
Easy to grow in virtually any location at normal room temperature, poinsettias prefer light, fertile, well-drained soil. Soil should be kept moist but allowed to dry between waterings. Sensitive to sudden temperature changes, poinsettias should not be displayed in drafty locations. For best display, these plants need 6 or more hours of bright indirect light, so place away from windows in sunny rooms. With proper care, this traditional holiday favorite may last for weeks or even months.