Plants make for pleasant holiday gifts

An American icon for many years, Poinsettias are still the number one holiday plant to give or receive. First brought to America in 1825 by Joel Roberts Poinsett, poinsettias are native to Mexico. Poinsettias are a member of the genus Euphorbia. Several of its relatives contain diterpenes, a toxin known to cause death.

However, this is NOT the case with Poinsettias. In fact, the 1985 American Medical Association Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants states the poinsettia has not been found to produce fatal effects when taken orally or applied to the skin. Though there may be an allergic reaction to the milky sap in some people, there has never been a recorded case of poisoning.

Do not take this to mean that we should start adding poinsettia leaves to our salads. Lettuce is much tastier and less expensive. But do display these magnificent plants in a place so that all in the home can enjoy.

With proper care, a Poinsettia should stay beautiful for weeks or even months. Set the plant in a sunny window âÂÂ:quot; the more light the better. Be sure the plant does not touch the window, as the cold will damage the leaves. Keep plants away from warm and cold drafts such as heater ducts, above the television, on the fireplace mantel or in front of open doors to the outside. Punch holes in the bottom of the decorative foil to allow excess water to drain through the pot. Water the plant when the soil is dry by adding enough water so that it runs out the bottom. Then, do not water the plant again until the soil dries.

Another popular plant is the Norfolk Island Pine. It is often used as an indoor living Christmas tree because it resembles a true pine with horizontal branches and bright green needles. However, these plants prefer an abundance of light, but do not like to be kept wet. They will develop root rot if left in standing water. Likewise, they fall victim to spider mites, causing them to turn golden yellow and die.

Holiday Cacti prefer cooler temperatures to complete their show. When temperatures are above 70 degrees, flower buds begin to fall off. Place the plants in a well-lighted location. Poor lighting leads to bud drop and poor growth after flowering. Water thoroughly, but allow the plant to become moderately dry between waterings.

– Bruce Chladny is horticulture agent at K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County. For more information, call him at 843-7058 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.