December 29, 2008


Jean Field, Extension Specialist, Pinellas County Extension

With Christmas just around the corner, Floridians are shopping at local nurseries and garden centers for the fiery red bracts of the traditional holiday plant, the Poinsettia. No other flower displays such a brilliant splash of red color during the festive weeks of December and January than this member of the spurge family, Euphorbia pulcherrima.

Native to southern Mexico where they become ten foot shrubs, Americans can thank Mexican Ambassador Joel Poinsett for bringing the Poinsettia to the United States in 1825. The Ecke family of Southern California began growing them on their farm in the early 1900’s as a cut flower and Christmas plant. Today there are over 100 varieties available in red, white, pink and enticing combinations of the three. Look at the tag in your next potted Poinsettia. Most likely it was shipped from the Ecke farm near San Diego, as 85% of the Poinsettias shipped from the United States originated at the Ecke farms outside San Diego.

The part of the plant commonly referred to as the flower isn’t a flower at all, but a modified leaf or a bract. These bracts change color to the spectacular hues of red, pink or white that brightens the coffee tables of our homes during the winter holidays. The true flowers are yellow pollen-bearing and grow in the center out of little green cups called cyathium. Take a close look at these flowers next time you buy Poinsettias as an indicator of plant freshness. Flowers that have shed their pollen will soon drop their colorful bracts. Plants with pollen-covered flowers will hold their bracts much longer.

Poinsettias are NOT poisonous, contrary to what you may have been told by well-meaning neighbors. The white latex sap in the stems can give dermatitis to sensitive people, however, according to the national information center for poison control centers, the plant is not considered poisonous or toxic. A study at Ohio State University showed that a 50 pound child who ate 500 bracts would have developed a bad stomach ache at best. Poinsettias also are not poisonous to your dog or cat. According to the ASPCA, "poinsettia ingestions typically produce only mild to moderate gastrointestinal tract irritation, which may include drooling, vomiting and/or diarrhea." So, you may want to keep the plants out of reach, but you need not fear a fatal reaction if part of the poinsettia is eaten.

Indoor care
A bright, cool room works best for healthy, blooming indoor Poinsettias. A dark room or a hot patio will result in leaf drop and loss of colorful bracts. Ideal temperatures for best leaf and bract retention are day temperatures of 70-75 degrees and evening temperatures of 60-65 degrees. Keep them out of drafts. Water when the top 1 inch of soil dries out to the touch. Do not let Poinsettias sit in standing water.

Outdoor care
In central and south Florida, Poinsettias can be planted outside in a sunny, well drained site. Be sure and provide 14 hours of uninterrupted darkness each night after October 1st or they won’t bloom. Fertilize with a complete slow-release fertilizer monthly from March through October at the rate of 2 pounds per 100 square feet. Be sure and apply magnesium sulfate (Mg) to each plant twice a year at the rate of 1 teaspoon per square foot or 2 cups per 100 square feet. Magnesium deficiencies are unsightly and are much easier to prevent than to control.

Make your own Poinsettia plants by taking 6” cutting of the new growth with your sharp, clean pruners. Immerse the cut end of the stem in hot water for 1 minute, then dip the stem immediately in cold water to seal it. Place 2-3 cuttings in a 1- gallon pot with well-drained, fresh potting soil and place it in a warm, bright location not in direct sunlight. As the root ball grows, gradually increase light and decrease water. Within a couple months you will have a new potted Poinsettia to plant outside or share with a lucky friend.

Poinsettia Trivia

  • $220 million dollars worth of Poinsettias are sold during the Christmas season

  • 80% of Poinsettias purchased are by women

  • 80% are purchased by people 40 years of age or older

  • 90% of the world’s Poinsettias are exported from the United States

  • 85% of potted plant sales during the Christmas season arePoinsettias

Brighten the porch or the dining room of a friend this Christmas season with the gift of a Poinsettia. With bright light and moderate temperature and water, this cheerful native from Mexico will brighten your home for months to come.

Poinsettias For Florida, Indoors and Outdoors: Robert J. Black, Rick K. Schoellhorn
Perfect Poinsettias: UF/IFAS Okeechobee County Extension Service
The Poinsettia Pages: University of Illinois Extension
Poinsettias No Longer in the Dog House -

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