One of the most used plants during the holiday season is the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) and the plant is so popular that Dec. 12 is hailed as National Poinsettia Day.
When I was a child, my parents used to sell Christmas trees and wreaths at the Eastern Market in Detroit. One of my fondest memories was going into the heated building where the florists were selling traditional and newer cultivars of poinsettia by the hundreds.
Of course, these days there are all sorts of colors and even dyed and glittered types on the market. Regardless of your preference when it comes to poinsettias, their popularity has stood the test of time.
The center of origin of poinsettia is Central America, and it was originally brought to the United States by John Poinsett, the first ambassador to Mexico who also was an amateur botanist. He gave cuttings to other botanists throughout the East.
Mass production began in the United States during the early 1900s. The Ecke family of southern California grew poinsettias outdoors for use as landscape plants and as a cut flower. Eventually the family grew them in greenhouses and at one time they were the principal producer in the United States. Today, poinsettias are produced in almost every state.
Botanically, poinsettias are in the euphorbia family and if the leaves or stems are damaged, they will exude a latex-type substance. The colorful parts of the poinsettia are actually the bracts, not the flowers. The flowers are inconspicuous and usually yellow.
Poinsettia production is big business. Approximately 34 million poinsettias are sold in the United States per year for a total of over $160 million. Ohio continues to be a primary producer.
While we are most familiar with red and white varieties, there are over a hundred commercial varieties on the market with colors ranging the spectrum from red to pink to white and newer variegated types rising in popularity. There are breeding programs throughout the United States, many located at land-grant universities that work to create varieties with different characteristics.
Two common questions that I am asked are: How do I care for my poinsettia, and how do I get the plant to “rebloom?”
Poinsettias can be a fragile plant. When purchasing, do your best to cause the least exposure to the elements by keeping it covered and away from wind or cold temperatures when taking it to the car. Once home, keep the plant moist, but not too soggy. Place in an area that receives a high amount of light. If plant leaves wilt, they will curl up and fall off.
Inducing “reblooming” is not a complicated process. Continue watering the plant regularly until March, then cut the plant down to 4 to 6 inches. Repot into a bigger pot in April, then move outside when all danger of frost has passed and the night temperatures are above 60 degrees. The pot should be planted in a shady flower bed, turned often so that the roots do not go through the pot. To spur branching, pinch the top quarter-inch of growth every 3 to 4 weeks.
Before the weather turns cold in the fall, remove the plant, drench to remove insects and bring inside. Poinsettia are short-day plants (or long-night) meaning they will not color up unless they receive at least 12 hours of uninterrupted darkness. This can be accomplished by completely covering the plant at dusk and removing the cover in the morning. Flower initiation begins in late September/early October.
For more information about poinsettias see: web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv/homeowners/021228.html or extension.illinois.edu/poinsettia/history.cfm.
Jacqueline Kowalski is the Summit County Agriculture and Natural Resources Extension Educator for the Ohio State University. For questions on local foods, food production or other garden-related questions, contact her at email@example.com or 330-928-4769 ext. 2456.