You, you, euphorbia!

In a previous blog, we me Sally Spath. She was all worked up about some nasty fungus gnats giving her a hard time. But now, she has encountered another invader into her greenhouse. Polly Poinsettia and her diva sisters! Dozens of ‘em. Crowding the aisles, sitting on benches, displayed in the showroom, hogging all the glory. They even get dressed! Red ones, pink ones, white ones, streaked ones. Big ones, tiny ones, they’re everywhere they’re everywhere! Sally feels slighted. “What am I, chopped liver??”


So where did this interloper come from? Poinsettias are native to Mexico, where they grow on hillsides as a tall, rangy shrub over 10’ tall.  The ancient Aztecs grew them, and used the colorful bracts to make dyes. They were used in Mexican churches to decorate at Christmas, and called the “flor de la noche buena”, or the Holy Night flower. “See, I have such a romantic history.” Then in 1825, a man named Joel Poinsett was named ambassador to Mexico. He was an avid botanist, and when he saw those plants, he took cuttings and sent them back to his home. He also gave some cuttings to botanical gardens and friends.


Around 1900, a man named Albert Ecke settled in California. His family had owned a health spa in Europe and originally that was his plan. But in 1911 he decided to take up agriculture since he especially loved flowers. He noticed that poinsettias grew wild in the area and bloomed during the winter holiday season. It should be the official Christmas flower, he thought. Soon his son joined him and they started growing them in fields and selling them at roadside stands around Hollywood. He also shipped them by rail to other growers and promoted them around the country as a desirable holiday plant. As the next generation took over, advancements in poinsettia breeding made it possible to switch to greenhouse production, with cuttings shipped overnight. He actively marketed and promoted the poinsettia as a must-have part of every holiday scene.  "You Hollywood primadonna!”     “little miss white bread--boring!"

So you broke down and bought one to help you decorate for the holidays. Now how do you keep them looking their best?  “Tsk--High-maintenance hussy!” The actual flower on a poinsettia  is the small center part in the middle of all those colorful bracts. “You’ve got spathe envy, admit it.” Plants whose flowers have not lost their pollen will last longer. First, don’t overwater them. Let the soil get dry to the touch before giving them another drink. Second, keep them away from your heating vents or cold drafty windows.   “ooo, treat me like a movie star.” Don’t feed them while they are blooming. Ideally, they like bright indirect light in the daytime for a while, a little cooler at night. And by the way, poinsettias are not truly poisonous, although eating one could make you sick. The milky sap, an identifier for the euphorbia family, can irritate your skin.


Really want to get adventurous and keep your poinsettia past Jan. 1? After it has bloomed, it wants to go dormant.  “ Dead plant walking!!” So prune it back and keep it in a cool area until spring. Then repot it and put it outside where it can get some morning sun. Feed it every 2 weeks with a houseplant fertilizer. Then around Oct 1, place it somewhere so you can cover it to be in complete darkness from 5pm to 8am. Water and fertilize as usual, but do this every night until   the bracts start to color up.
If you are unsuccessful in your efforts to keep your plant till next year, there are over 100 cultivars of poinsettias to tantalize you into buying another! Here are just a few….





“Unlike some plants, you can always count on me. I’m elegant, green, and beautiful.”
“Yeah, and I’ll be back……”
“You , you, euphorbia!”

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1. wrote:

Tue, November 29, 2011 @ 11:17 AM

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