Poinsettias

By Tommy Clarkson from the December 2010 Edition

Poinsettia, Eupharbia pulcherrima

Family: Euphorbiaceae (Also called: Atatürk flower)

For many throughout the Americas, this brightly colored plant is synonymous with the year end holidays. Named after Joel R. Poensett, the first US Ambassador to Mexico, it was he who introduced it to the United States in 1828 during a return trip home.

For many throughout the Americas, this brightly colored plant is synonymous with the year end holidays. Named after Joel R. Poensett, the first US Ambassador to Mexico, it was he who introduced it to the United States in 1828 during a return trip home.

In Mexico it is called Noche Buena originating from a several centuries old legend. Supposedly, on Christmas Eve, a little girl named Pepita was sad as she had no gift for the Christ Child. As she walked to church, she gathered weeds along the road that she thought were pretty. Upon arriving at the church, as she approached the altar, a miracle was said to happen when the weeds blossomed into brilliant flowers. These came to be called Flores de Noche Buena (Flowers of the Holy Night).

In the wild, Poinsettias are found in some of Mexico’s hot, seasonally dry forests as well as in its deciduous tropical forests along the entire Pacific coast all the way down to Guatemala. With functional purposes years ago, the Aztecs used the plant to produce red dye and as an antipyretic medication – reducing bodily temperatures during fevers.

Now, through hybridization there are over 100 varieties. Their colors range beyond the traditional, red, pink, cream and white plants to pastel yellow, orange, pale green, or marbled and dramatic bi-color variants. What many think are flowers are, in fact, colored bracts or leaves. The actual flowers are grouped within the small yellow structures in the center of each leaf bunch and are called cyathia.

Grown outdoors, it is easily capable of growing up to 8 – 10 feet outdoors. However, without bi-monthly pruning it can become quite “leggy” and lose its attractiveness.

For quite some time poinsettias have gotten a bum rap with claims that they are poisonous. In fact, human or pet ingestion of them is probably no different than that of eating any other common houseplant – an upset stomach. Extensive testing has proven that they are not toxic or unsafe to have in one’s house or even being put into compost piles. Now, that having been said, these plants exude a milky sap to which some people might be sensitive and which could, in some cases cause an itchy rash. Accordingly, I’d recommend that one be careful to not rub one’s eyes after touching these plants.

For potted poinsettias there are four important factors: Light, heat, water and humidity. They prefer an optimum of indirect sunlight. So if kept inside they won’t like a window with a northern exposure! To maintain the longest blooming period possible, they like the 65 -75 temperature range and care not a whit for extreme shifts in temperature. Cold drafts – or allowing the leaves to touch a cold window – will cause leaf injury. Water when the potting soil feels dry and until it drains from the bottom, but do not let the plant sit in water. Lastly, as tropical plants, understandably, they prefer humid environs.

And, there are many on-line sites on keeping potted holiday poinsettias alive year around Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my friends, family and loyal readers, from Patty and Tommy Clarkson.

Download the full edition or view it online


Tommy Clarkson is a bit of a renaissance man. He’s lived and worked in locales as disparate as the 1.2 square mile island of Kwajalein to war-torn Iraq, from aboard he and Patty’s boat berthed out of Sea Bright, NJ to Thailand, Germany, Hawaii and Viet Nam; He’s taught classes and courses on creative writing and mass communications from the elementary grades to graduate level; He’s spoken to a wide array of meetings, conferences and assemblages on topics as varied as Buddhism, strategic marketing and tropical plants; In the latter category he and Patty’s recently book, “The Civilized Jungle” – written for the lay gardener – has been heralded as “the best tropical plant book in the last ten years”; And, according to Trip Advisor, their spectacular tropical creation – Ola Brisa Gardens – is the “Number One Tour destination in Manzanillo”.

Tommy Clarkson

---
Tommy Clarkson is a bit of a renaissance man. He’s lived and worked in locales as disparate as the 1.2 square mile island of Kwajalein to war-torn Iraq, from aboard he and Patty’s boat berthed out of Sea Bright, NJ to Thailand, Germany, Hawaii and Viet Nam; He’s taught classes and courses on creative writing and mass communications from the elementary grades to graduate level; He’s spoken to a wide array of meetings, conferences and assemblages on topics as varied as Buddhism, strategic marketing and tropical plants; In the latter category he and Patty’s recently book, “The Civilized Jungle” – written for the lay gardener – has been heralded as “the best tropical plant book in the last ten years”; And, according to Trip Advisor, their spectacular tropical creation - Ola Brisa Gardens – is the “Number One Tour destination in Manzanillo”.

Latest posts by Tommy Clarkson (see all)