Ten Neat Things About Poinsettias
by Dorothy Dobbie
by Dorothy Dobbie

The Local Gardener magazines, Ontario Gardener, Manitoba Gardener and Alberta Gardener, are published by Pegasus Publications Inc.

Drawing on her 30 years' experience as a senior executive in the magazine publishing industry, Dorothy launched Manitoba Gardener in 1998, initially running the business out of her home. Two years later, Dorothy's daughter Shauna, living in Ontario, jumped into the fray with Ontario Gardener. And two years after that, they started Alberta Gardener. Visit us at and register for our "Ten Neat things" newsletter. Watch Shaw TV for garden tips and Listen to CJOB for the Gardener Sundays at 9:08

December 7, 2014

1. Cyathium is the flower.

Poinsettia shoppers are certainly not looking at the flowers to make their decisions to buy. Instead, they are attracted, as are pollinators, by the bright red (or, now, other colours) of the leaves or bracts. The flowers, called cyathia in this genus, are actually very insignificant. They are those small greenish-yellow things in the centre of the bracts.

2. All hail the queen .

Each cyathium holds five male flowers surrounding a single female, who often hides coyly from the males until she ready to bloom, whereupon, she rises on her pedicel and lords it over them all. Putting it another way, their are five tiny male flowers surrounding a female in each of those little greenish-yellow things in the centre of the flower and when the female is ready to be pollinated, it sprouts out above the rest. The plant can self-pollinate, but to please nature's need for diversity, the sprouting female is showing a preference for fertilization by another plant.

3. Not poisonous. Medicinal.

Poinsettia's reputation for deadliness is not warranted. While the white sap from the leaves can irritate skin and give a cat's mouth a nasty burn (like a very hot pepper) and cause it to vomit, it will not kill anything. However, the Aztecs, who made a purplish dye from its leaves, used the sap from its leaves to relieve fever. The sap from its cousin, Euphorbia peplus, is used to cure skin carcinomas.

4. What's in a name?

In Spanish, poinsettia is known as flor de nochebuena, or flower of Christmas Eve. Legend has it that in its native Mexico, a poor child wept as she made her way to church on Christmas Eve because she had no gift to place before the altar of the Virgin and Child. An angel appeared and told her to pick the weeds from the roadside. When she arrived at the altar, lovely crimson flowers appeared on every stem. In Latin, the name is Euphorbia pulcherrima, meaning beautiful euphorbia.

5. How to care for it.

Keep poinsettias out of drafts or too much heat. It likes an evenly moist, not wet, soil and water should be allowed to flow freely through the pot, which then should be thoroughly drained. Do not fertilize the plant when it is in bloom. Give it at least 6 hours of indirect light every day - a spot in your living room should be fine as long as it gets normal light.

6. How to get it to bloom.

Give your poinsettia a holiday outside in an area with filtered sun so that it gets some sun but does not get burned. Fertilize. Bring it in before the first frost. Eight to ten weeks before you want it to bloom, begin withdrawing light at night. It needs to be kept in total darkness for 12 to 14 hours. A plastic garbage bag will work (even a small amount of light can interfere with flower setting). Put the plant in the brightest light you can for the daytime. Keep the nighttime temperature in the 15 degree C range - any higher may require an extended dark period. Water sparsely for this period. When you see buds beginning to form, discontinue the dark periods.

7. Pruning.

Give your poinsettia a haircut in summer to bush it out and shape it to what you want to see when you bring it inside. In the wild, poinsettias grow a tall as 10 to 12 feet.

8. Leaves dropping.

After pollination, it is normal for poinsettia to lose some or all of its leaves. It is not dead unless the branches shrivel and turn brown. When this happens, you can cut it back to within a couple of inches from the soil if you wish and let it re-emerge in the springtime. Or let it be. New leaves will eventually return.

9. National Poinsettia Day.

This day has been observed in the United States since the mid-1800s to commemorate Joel Poinset, the first American ambassador to Mexico, a physician and a botanist, who introduced the plant to the American public.

10. The statistics.

The Paul Ecke Ranch in California is the largest producer of poinsettias in the U.S. There are over 100 varieties today. In Canada, poinsettias are the second most popular potted plant, running just behind geraniums and just ahead of chrysanthemums. In the U.S, poinsettias account for 30 per cent of all potted flower sales at a value of about $247 million per year.

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