Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
December, 2004
Regional Report

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Poinsettias add a festive flair to the holidays, whether you like the new color variations or traditional red.

Poinsettias Are Still Number One

Poinsettias are not only the number one holiday plant, they also are the top flowering potted plant in the United States. Native to Mexico, the poinsettia originated in a rather limited region near present-day Taxco. The Aztecs of Central Mexico cultivated the plant long before the arrival of Europeans. Because of its brilliant color, the poinsettia was considered a symbol of purity.

The Aztecs also had practical uses for the plant. They made a reddish purple dye out of the bracts and a medicine for fever from the plant's latex.

Now poinsettias are a favorite for decorating our homes during the holiday season. Modern poinsettia varieties offer more color variations and are more vigorous and longer lasting.

Getting the Most From Your Poinsettia
Select a bright, sunny location if possible. To prolong the color of the bracts, day temperatures should be near 70 degrees F. and nights at least 65 degrees. Therefore, avoid spots where heating vents, fireplaces, and other drafts may cause temperature fluctuations. If you place the plants outside, remember that temperatures below 50 degrees can cause them to drop their leaves, and frost can kill them.

Water plants well and then allow the soil surface to dry to the touch before you water again. Underwatering can certainly be a problem, but it's not nearly as common as overwatering. Soggy, waterlogged roots die, and the plant soon follows!

Poinsettias set buds and produce flowers in response to the shorter days and longer nights in late fall. Full red color normally occurs a bit too late for our holiday season unless steps are taken to artificially initiate it. While possible, it is not easy to coax them into bloom in time for the holidays. Therefore you may not want to bother with trying to maintain them throughout the spring and summer months.

One final note about poinsettias is in order. They are not poisonous! Research at Ohio State University (on test animals at consumption levels equivalent to a 50-pound child eating 500 leaves) found they are not toxic. Mild cases of gastric distress have been reported, and the milky sap can cause skin irritation in some people. But there's no reason to fear having the plants in your home.

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