You can find a poinsettia’s scarlet, star-shaped leaves everywhere you turn during the holidays. Poinsettias are one of the most popular Christmas decorations around, with more than $200 million in sales every holiday season.
So what does a poinsettia have to do with Christmas? One interpretation of the plant is as a symbol of the Star of Bethlehem, the heavenly body that led the three magi, or wise men, to the place where Christ was born. A Mexican legend tells of a girl who could only offer weeds as a gift to Jesus on Christmas Eve. When she brought the weeds into a church, they blossomed into the beautiful red plants we know as poinsettias, known as Flores de Noche Buena in Mexico (Spanish for “flowers of the holy night”).
Poinsettias didn’t arrive in the United States until the 19th century. The plant is named for the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett, who introduced America to the poinsettia in 1828, after discovering it in the wilderness in southern Mexico. Dr. Poinsett, who dabbled in botany when he wasn’t politicking between nations, sent cuttings of the plant back to his South Carolina home. While it wasn’t initially embraced, its caught on over the years, and by the 20th century it was a holiday mainstay. In fact, National Poinsettia Day is celebrated on Dec. 12, honoring both the plant and the man who brought it to America.
The Poinsettia is also the national emblem of Madagascar.
Bright and colorful, poinsettias are nearly synonymous with the Christmas season. They provide you with a wealth of opportunities for holiday decorating.
Find the Ideal Spot
To keep them looking good, give poinsettias a sunny, south-facing windowsill or bright filtered light. Don’t press them close to a cold windowpane however, because this can damage the leaves. Keep them at about 68 degrees F during the day, and cooler at night, to prolong the display.
Watering and Feeding
Poinsettias should be watered regularly and kept evenly moist. Never let plants sit in water; always empty their saucers or planters shortly after watering.
Getting Poinsettias to Bloom Again
With proper poinsettia care after Christmas, you can get a plant to perform again. Water it until mid-spring, then let it dry out and allow the stems to shrivel. Keep it cool. At the end of spring, cut all growth to a couple of inches above the soil and repot it in new soil. Water well and keep it warm, feeding it with houseplant fertilizer when new growth appears. A month later, move the plant outside to a shady location, pinching out the growing tips in midsummer, before returning it indoors. Give it a sunny spot, watering and feeding regularly; then from mid-autumn, keep the plant in total darkness between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. It will then re-flower and produce colorful bracts.
Top Tip: Leaf Drop
It’s common for a few poinsettia leaves to turn yellow and drop off when you first bring them home. Don’t be alarmed — the plant is just reacting to its new living conditions.