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Garden Variety: Poinsettias, the dependable diva

December 5, 2013

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Poinsettias are not only the most popular of Christmas plants, but also the one most supported and idolized of all plants. “Poinsettias are the dependable diva of winter blooming houseplants” is a phrase coined by Ward Upham, horticulturist with Kansas State University Research and Extension, and he adds, “They are divas because they are fairly specific about the care they require.”

Poinsettia

Poinsettia

Here is what they need:

• Place the plant in indirect sunlight for at least six hours per day with a room temperature of 65-70 degrees

• Close the blinds at night

• Do not place near any cold drafts, excessive heat, appliances, fireplaces, ventilation ducts or on top of the television

• Water only when the soil feels dry to the touch

• Make sure the water drains out the bottom

• Do not repot or fertilize the poinsettia while in bloom

Here are some facts you can use to start a conversation or bring the discussion back to your favor as a gardener.

• The word poinsettia is noun pronounced poin-se-te-ah, or poin-set-uh (rhymes with bruschetta). The Latin name is Euphorbia pulcherrima.

• These woody shrubs are native to Taxco, Mexico, where they grow outdoors, as a bush, to a height of 10 feet. There some call it “el flor de noche buena,” or flower of the holy night

• The idea that the poinsettia is poisonous is a myth. Admittedly, some people may experience an allergic reaction to the milky latex that exudes from any cut surface, but there are numerous common houseplants, including philodendron, dumbcane, and oleander, that are considerably more toxic. A misdiagnosed case in 1919 led to this false belief.

• Dec. 12 is Poinsettia Day, which marks the death of Joel Roberts Poinsett in 1851.

• Paul Ecke is known as the father of the poinsettia industry, having discovered a way to make the seedlings branch. His California ranch, now owned by the Dutch based Agribio Group, produces 70 percent of the plants sold in the United States and 50 percent of those worldwide.

• Americans spend over $250 million on the 12- to-20-inch-tall house plants. These are the bestselling potted plant in all of the United States and Canada.

• The Poinsettia Bowl was first played in Dec. 20, 1952, as a military championship game. Bolling Air Force Base defeated the San Diego Naval Training Center by a score of 35-14.

• The plant consists of the plant stems, green leaves, colored bracts and a flower. This actual flower is rather indistinct and is the small yellowish white growth in the center of the bracts.

Purchase the healthiest plant you can. With care, they will live easily through the winter and into May, so spending some additional money on size and quality is worth the cost. Select plants with stiff stems and no signs of wilting or drooping leaves or bracts. The more yellow pollen showing on the flowers, the longer it has been in bloom.

Old plants are missing their actual flowers. Be wary of plants that are displayed in paper, plastic, or mesh sleeves, or crowding in the sales display. Poinsettias need space and the longer they are confined, the more the quality will deteriorate.

Even if the plant looks healthy, avoid those with waterlogged soil as root rot may already have started. As you transport it, use a sleeve or large shopping bag to protect it from the winter cold and wind, and make this the last stop on the way home.

— Stan Ring is the Horticulture Program Assistant for K-State Research and Extension in Douglas County. Extension Master Gardeners can help with your gardening questions at 843-7058 or mastergardener@douglas-county.com.

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