COLUMBIA, Mo. – Plant lovers who can’t wait until December for Christmas poinsettias can celebrate in July.
Although not as splashy as its winter relative, painted leaf poinsettia is a mid-year gift, says University of Missouri Extension horticulturist Michele Warmund.
Painted leaf poinsettia, also called fire-on-the-mountain, grows wild in Missouri, especially the southern part of the state. It reaches a height of 2-3 feet at maturity. Lower leaves are often unlobed while the upper ones are fiddle-shaped.
Near the shoot tips are modified leaves called bracts that turn red to red-orange in July through September. The bracts surround the true flowers, known as cyathia.
Painted leaf poinsettia adapts to different soil types and grows in full sun to partial shade, Warmund says. Cyathia attract bees, butterflies and moths. Pests rarely bother these plants, but prolonged wetness can leave them vulnerable to fungal infection.
Nurseries that specialize in wild plants and some native plant societies carry painted leaf poinsettia seeds. The plants also can be propagated by herbaceous stem cuttings or transplanted from nonrestricted sites. Avoid severing the taproot during digging, says Warmund.
While beautiful, painted leaf poinsettia can become invasive. The plants are also allelopathic, releasing a compound into the soil that can inhibit the growth of other plants. “It is best to grow painted leaf poinsettia plants in a container or in a confined area,” she says.
In the fall, a single seed develops in a three-lobed capsule. At maturity, capsules burst open, flinging seeds into the air and onto the soil.
Like the Christmas poinsettia, painted leaf poinsettia contains latex, a milky-white substance. Latex is an irritant when it contacts the eyes or mouth and can cause mild discomfort if eaten. For this reason, painted leaf poinsettia is considered a rabbit- and deer-resistant plant.
Other plants related to painted leaf poinsettia include flowering spurge and snow-on-the-mountain. Flowering spurge, a perennial, produces numerous small, white five-petaled flowers from April to October. While considered a weed in some settings, flowering spurge is useful in attracting quail, which feed on the seeds and use the plant for cover when rearing offspring. Snow-on-the-mountain, an ornamental plant, has showy green foliage with white leaf margins and small flowers.
–Michele Warmund, University of Missouri Extension