The holiday season is marked by many decor traditions — Christmas trees, wreaths, garland and the vibrant poinsettia. Adding a pop of color to holiday trimmings, if selected carefully, poinsettias can stay vibrant into the new year.
Picking the perfect poinsettia and keeping it healthy throughout the holidays has never been easier with these tips from Jim Faust, an associate professor of horticulture at Clemson University.
Selecting: Freshness is key
Purchase when the poinsettias are initially placed on display in the store. Avoid those that have been sitting on racks for over a week.
If you can’t tell if the display is new, then these two features are indicators of freshness:
- Look closely at the center of the flowering stem. The true flowers, called cyathia, are positioned here. They should bear pollen — little yellow grains. If the cyathia are missing, this is a sign that the plants are past their prime.
- Examine the lower leaves. They should be healthy and green. Avoid plants if leaves are yellowing or drying up and falling off. Lower leaves fall off when plants have been in low light and not been watered properly.
Caring: Don’t forget to water
- Do not leave the plant in the plastic sleeve. Remove the sleeve and place the pot on a saucer to capture any liquid that may spill out when watered.
- Poinsettias prefer moist soil, not dry and not soaking wet.
- Position the plant in a well-lit room near a window. Plants need light to generate enough food to maintain the flowers and leaves. The amount of time your poinsettia will survive is directly related to how much light it receives.
So, where did this favorite holiday tablescape come from in the first place? The poinsettia’s journey from Mexico to the United States began when Joel Roberts Poinsett, a South Carolina politician, served as the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico in 1828. Poinsett believed agriculture was the key to economic development, so he facilitated the exchange of plants between the U.S. and Mexico, including the poinsettia. The poinsettia he brought back from Mexica was a cultivar, likely dating back to the rule of Montezuma, who had one of the world’s first botanic gardens.
“Modern poinsettias are not your grandmother’s plants,” says Faust. “Breeding has dramatically improved their consumer performance. Back in the day, growers would place ferns or pine boughs in the pot along with the poinsettia to provide greenery, because the poinsettia leaves would fall off so quickly. Today’s poinsettias will last well into January if watered properly and provided enough sunlight.”