We have all heard of the Poinsettia flower, especially at Christmas time, when it’s almost as popular as the Xmas tree itself. but not quite. This plant is so special to this festive time of the year, perhaps more so through custom and tradition, but also for the fact that there are not too many other plants about at this time of the year. We are all familiar with the custom of giving bouquets of flowers as gifts on special occasions, birthdays and so on, but sadly around Christams time, unfortunately, there are not too many options available to us for this time of the year. In the height of winter and again depending on where we live, especially in the northern hemisphere, the Poinsettia, luckily for us, comes into flower around this time.
The stores, supermarkets, garden centres and all nursery outlets, always have stocks and stocks of this special flower for this special festive period. Some nurseries will only grow this plant and spend approx ten months of the year nurturing and caring for the Poinsettia, just to have them in ship-shape for the Christmas market. They know that they are so much in demand, so therefore their business is dedicated solely to the cultivation of this plant, as they know only too well how great a market there is going to be for them.
The history of Poinsettias;
The plant itself is a native of Central America, especially Mexico where it is grown in the wilds, given the hot tropical climate that that country has. The Aztecs were one of the first known groups of people that discovered the special properties that this plant has to offer. They used the flowers as decorative offerings for themselves and as offerings to their Gods. They sometimes used the red flowers as a dye for colouring their clothes and also as body art, while the sap of the stem was used for medicinal purposes and as a latex type food supplement. Poinsettias for Christmas, mainly come in red but occasionally there may be white blossoms, also we may find a pink hue in some of these plants.
Along with the story of the Aztecs, there is also an account of an American botanist, who was travelling through Central America and noticed these brightly coloured flowers, with lush green foilage growing wild throughout this area. He was immediately impressed with their beauty and stature, so much so that he decided there and then, he would send them back to the US for further analysis and examination. His family were physicians by trade and started to take stem cuttings and propogate these for further research and development. This persons name was J.R.Poinsett, so hence the name of this flower today as we know it, the Poinsettia. In his honour there is a special Poinsettia day in the US and this occasion is celebrated on the 12th December.
Caring for the Poinsettia;
Although in some parts they grow in the wild, but caring for this plant indoors can be a tricky exercise at times. They do not like too much heat or humidity and if they do encounter that imbalance, unfortunately, they will wither only too soon and too quickly. With great care and attention, they may last up to six months, but that instance is very rare, whereas their average life span in our homes is about six week or so. Once they have survived the Christmas period, I guess it’s like the Xmas tree, as soon as the festival is over the tree is disposed of. The same would apply to the Poinsettia, it’s seen as having served it’s purpose, then we forget about it, it wilts and dies, then out into the bin it goes.
When we purchase this plant from the shops or garden centres, we see that it is in relatively good condition, so in order to keep it flowering throughout the festive holidays, we need to take certain steps. It likes plenty light, so therefore situate this flower somewhere, so that it looks out onto a southfacing aspect., ie hall, patio, balcony etc etc. I would not recommend having this plant in the kitchen, due to the fluctuation of temperatures, ie, during cooking times and so on. Water lightly if the soil starts to dry out, but do not overwater or we may run the risk of plant and flower damage or total wilting. The watering is especially important while the plant is in flower, as this exercise draws on the plants resources, so as far as maintenace is required, it’s more of an observation exercise than anything else.
Caring for Poinsettias beyond Christmas;
In order to care for our Poinsettias beyong Christmas, we need to take certain measures and great care is required for this project to materialize. As soon as the flowering has ceased and we are well into the New Year, we can now look at taking steps to have this plant moved outside. However, we still need to water and give this flower some liquid feed to sustain its longevity after Christmas. We can start by removing this plant towards the back of our house and away from direct sunlight. As soon as the leaves begin to wilt, its time to cut back the stems to about 4″ from the base. Repot if necessary by selecting a pot that’s at least 20% larger than its original and use good grade potting compost. Leave to sit, continue to water as necessary and when the days and nights warm considerably, we can now plant outside in a sunny sheltered area. This step can be considered when and only when we are guaranteed frost free nights. To be honest this exercise is more trouble than its worth, perhaps if we have time on our hands and we are keen gardeners, then we could attempt this process.
Poinsettias and Christmas trees go hand in hand so to speak, there are other plants that sometimes we associate with this festive period, but for me, the aforementioned are the genisis of what Christmas is all about, coming from a gardening perspective. Holly, Ivy, Misseltoe are some other plants that we may think about. We can also buy Christmas decorations and garlands made from Poinsettia, which always add to the moment and create that festive atmosphere.
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