The poinsettia plant

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Here in North Florida poinsettias may be frozen to the ground before flowering so are best used as container plants.

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Thousands of poinsettias will be purchased and displayed in homes or offices during this Christmas Season. This plant’s bright red petal-like leaves and dark green foliage is especially appreciated this time of year.

Our present day poinsettia plant was no more than a weed growing wild in Mexico when it was discovered by our first ambassador to Mexico Joel Poinsett who brought the plant to this country in the 1820’s. The plant has since borne his name. By the time Poinsett got to the plant, Mexicans had been collecting the prized flowers for years and decorating their mangers with them as symbols of the star of Bethlehem.

Today’s poinsettia looks nothing like the ones that Poinsett brought back from Mexico. The modern poinsettia comes in a variety of sizes, shapes and forms.

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The true flowers are small, green and yellow and inconspicuous. The showy red parts, often called flowers are modified petal-like leaves, which botanist calls bracts. The bracts are formed below each flower.

The poinsettia buyer should do the following:

  • Select a plant that has green foliage nearly to the soil line. Old plants will usually have experienced excessive leaf drop.
  • The bracts should be large and extend over the lower green foliage. The most popular color in poinsettias is red. However, there are numerous shades of whites, pinks and color combinations.
  • Select only plants with small tight green button-like flower parts in the center of the bracts. These little buttons will eventually develop into open flowers. If the poinsettia is already producing pollen, you can be assured that a portion of its useful display life has already passed and the bracts will begin to fade.
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Poinsettias are predominately greenhouse grown as pot plants for Christmas in most of the United States. But in South Florida where it is warmer they can be used as colorful landscape shrubs. Here in North Florida they may be frozen to the ground before flowering so are best used as container plants.

If the new varieties are properly watered and placed in a cool, sunny, draft free area, the bracts will remain attractive for one to two months when used as houseplants.

Poinsettias need bright light to keep them looking good but it doesn’t have to be direct sunlight. Avoid dark locations. They will stay fresh longer in a cool room. If kept too hot, the leaves may suddenly drop. Night temperatures of 60-65ºF and day temperatures of 70-75ºF are ideal. Water the when the top of the soil feels dry and don’t let it sit in water constantly.

Larry Williams is the Extension horticulture agent with the Okaloosa County Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida. Contact Larry at 689-5850 or email lwilliams@co.okaloosa.fl.us.

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