Christmas is almost here, and everyone is hurrying to finish their last minute preparations for the special day. I remember as a child seeing the beautiful poinsettia plants decorating the church for Christmas Eve services and thinking they were so beautiful! This week, I searched and found little history about them from K-State Research and Extension’s horticulture team to share with you. They take a lot of work to make sure they are ready for the Christmas season, but I for one think it’s worth it. I hope all of your celebrations this year are filled with laughter and love. Merry Christmas!
Poinsettia plants certainly are jolly, aren’t they? Their bright red bracts (modified leaves) are so bright and colorful that they’ve become an integral part of the holiday season. In fact, Franciscan monks who settled near the native habitat (Taxco, Mexico) first used them in nativity processions in the 17th century. There, they are very large deciduous shrubs, reaching up to 15 feet in height. It wasn’t until 1825 that poinsettias were introduced to the U.S. market. Joel Poinsett, a skilled botanist who happened to be the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, brought plants back to his home in Greenville, South Carolina and shared them with botanical gardens and horticultural friends. The rest is history. In 1902 Albert Ecke, an immigrant from Germany, began a cut-flower business in California. Soon (1909ish) he started to specialize in poinsettias and the company has since become world renowned as expert in poinsettia production. They are a generous company, producing numerous books and guides for growing poinsettias. Because they are willing to share their knowledge and production tools, they have become the go-to supplier for poinsettia cuttings around the world. In a nutshell, growing a poinsettia crop is a complex task. Stock plants, from which un-rooted cuttings are collected, are housed at huge greenhouse operations in Mexico and Central America. Then, they are delivered to local growers in the U.S. within 48 hours. In July. That’s right, your beautiful Christmas poinsettia started production about five months ago. They’re picky, too. If the humidity, light, temperature, and nutrition aren’t just right, you get sick or strange-looking plants. No one will buy a sick or strange-looking poinsettia! Did you know that poinsettia plants didn’t really become popular until about 20 years ago? It’s true. Until 1963, poinsettias were only grown as cut flowers but new breeding resulted in potted plant production in 1964. Soon, new colors (other than red) were released into the market (seven in 1968). Improved durability and long shelf-life were also important breeding considerations. In the early 1990’s, novelty cultivars began to take off in popularity. With names like Enduring™ Pink, Freedom™ JingleBells, Red Velvet™, Shimmer™ Surprise!, Snowcap, Sparkling Punch, Orange Spice™,Peppermint Twist™, and Visions of Grandeur™ how can you not get excited about a poinsettia? Don’t worry about cats and dogs (and children, for that matter) being poisoned if they eat a poinsettia—chalk that one up to urban legend—the worst that could happen is some mild irritation. As a last note, toss your poinsettia on the compost pile after the holidays with no guilt. They are far too persnickety to keep alive and color up again next year. If they are exposed to temperatures 50°F or below, they are toast (keep them in sleeves when getting in and out of the car). Too much heat can cause them to decline as well. The list goes on and on. For more information about poinsettia care, check out urbanext.illinois.edu/poinsettia. Enjoy the holidays and don’t forget spend some time with the people you love!
Alicia Boor is the Agriculture and Natural Resources agent for Barton County K-State Research and Extension. You can contact her by e-mail at email@example.com or calling 620-793-1910