STILLWATER, Okla. — Although the Christmas tree takes center stage in many homes for holiday decorations, the poinsettia is also a popular addition to seasonal décor. There is no other plant that symbolizes Christmas like the poinsettia.
With over 100 varieties available, there’s a poinsettia that will fit almost any holiday style. Traditional red is a popular color, but these plants are also available in other colors such as yellow, pink, orange, white and variegated. It’s estimated that more than 2 million of these potted plants will be sold this year which, makes the poinsettia the largest potted flower crop grown in the United States.
David Hillock, Oklahoma State University Extension consumer horticulturist, said the poinsettia is native to Mexico and is called the Flower of the Holy Night due to its resemblance to the Star of Bethlehem.
“According to Mexican lore, a young child named Pepita didn’t have a gift for baby Jesus. All she had to offer was a hand-picked bouquet of weeds,” he said. “Angels felt compassion for the girl, and after she placed the flowers at the nativity on Christmas Eve they transformed the weeds into beautiful red flowers. Legend says this is why red and green are the colors of Christmas today.”
Why are poinsettias the Christmas flower in the United States? That’s due to an accidental discovery by Joel Roberts Poinsett, who was the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico in 1828. Poinsett saw the red flowers when visiting Mexico and was so impressed by the beauty of the plant he sent cuttings to his home in South Carolina. The cuttings were propagated and named Mexican Fire Plant and later shared with botanical gardens and growers across the country.
However, it was because of Paul Ecke and his ingenuity that the poinsettia really took off. He discovered a technique that caused seedlings to branch, resulting in a fuller plant. Today, poinsettias are the most popular Christmas plant, as well as the best-selling potted plant in both the U.S. and Canada.
“With proper care, your holiday poinsettia can last throughout the season and beyond. Overwatering is detrimental to the plant, so don’t be heavy-handed when it comes to moisture,” Hillock said. “The soil should feel dry to the touch and the pot should feel light when lifted. You don’t want it to get too dry, though, as this will cause the bracts to wilt. Make sure the pot has good drainage to help avoid root rot.”
Place the plant near south-, west- or east-facing windows, but avoid areas near heating vents, cold drafts, fireplaces or space heaters.
“Once the holidays are over and the other decorations have been stored away until next year, transplant the poinsettia to a larger pot. Add some all-purpose fertilizer and watch it grow,” he said. “With proper care, the poinsettia will be around for the next holiday season.”
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