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Euphorbia pulcherrima, known as the Poinsettia or Christmas Star, is one of the most iconic seasonal houseplants. They’re commonly displayed during the winter holidays and treasured for their vibrant, cheerful coloring. This plant belongs to the fourth largest plant genus in the world. Euphorbia, which contains everything from the poinsettia to temperate garden spurges and many succulent species grown as houseplants.
Despite most of the ones you’ll see being rather small, the plant is native to Mexico and Guatemala, where it grows into large shrubs. This plant can reach 13 feet, or 4 meters, in height but smaller varieties are available as well.
Although this plant has been treasured throughout history, the name Poinsettia is quite new. It originates from the former US ambassador to Mexico and botanist Joel Roberts Poinsett, who brought the plants back to his South Carolina plantations after visiting Mexico.
Poinsettias can be a little finicky if they don’t get the proper growing conditions. Although often sold in the winter, they don’t tolerate cold temperatures. With sufficient lighting, they can be grown indoors as a houseplant or, if you live in a frost-free area, can be grown outdoors year-round.
Watering & fertilizing
Poinsettias have rather sensitive roots and won’t tolerate the soil drying too much or staying too wet. During the flowering period, they don’t need much fertilizer but afterwards, closer to spring, these plants typically experience a period of quite rapid growth and will need regular additions of nutrients.
They prefer a bright spot and can be acclimated to some direct sunlight during the day. Bright light is very important as Christmas stars will easily drop leaves in a rather short period from being placed in an area that’s too shaded.
If you have a green Poinsettia from last year that hasn’t returned to its bright red coloring, you can put the plant in darkness for at least 14 hours a day over about 8 weeks before you want it colored up. A closet or other dark room can work–no artificial light, but don’t forget to place it in a bright spot again in the morning.
Temperature and humidity
Even though they’re associated with the winter months, this plant is rather sensitive to cold. Be sure to wrap them up while carrying them from the shop if the temperatures are low. Even a very short amount of time exposed to cold weather risks the plant dropping a lot of foliage at home later on.
You’ll want to find a warm, draft-free area to place it at home. Cold draft in combination with freshly watered, moist soil risks causing root rot fast.
Placing it near or over top of a heater also risks exposing the plant to a hot draft that causes dehydration, dry leaf edges or leaf loss. Hot, dry air is a common issue for plants during the winter. One way to prevent it is to place the plant on a pebble tray in order to raise the humidity.
These plants prefer an airy, porous soil mix. A great combination would be a good quality potting soil or coconut coir with perlite or another similar substrate mixed in. Avoid dense soil mixes as these will risk root rot.
Something interesting about poinsettias is that the colorful leaves aren’t the petals of the flower. The real flowers are rather tiny in comparison and the colored leaves are called bracts. These bracts are leaves that change color in order to attract pollinators in just the same way as a flower petal.
Flowering is induced by the length of the night– ideally about 14 hours of darkness. It will need at least 8 weeks until the bract’s color change is complete. If you live in a place where this period of darkness isn’t naturally occurring, you can induce it manually by moving it to a dark cabinet or closet each evening and bringing it back out in the morning.
Be aware that Poinsettia plants are toxic to cats and dogs, so it may not be suitable for homes with pets and should always be kept well out of reach of animals. The plant produces a sticky white sap that might irritate the skin. If you’re allergic to latex, it might be advised to handle the plant as little as possible to minimize the risk of a reaction.
Although they're most prized and known for their red leaves, Poinsettias actually come in a wide range of different colors - there are an abundance of varieties in shades of white, burgundy, pink, yellow and orange with combinations of colors in different patterns too.