BY LORI MURRAY
One of the joys of my Christmas season is gazing at the sea of red that dominates huge areas in so many stores as retailers tempt us to take home a red Poinsettia of our very own.
Introduced to the United States in 1828 by Joel Roberts Poinsett, our first ambassador to Mexico, the flower has become a big part of our Christmas culture. But how can we know which pot to select?
A little understanding of the flower’s composition can help us choose a plant that will give us a great deal of pleasure during the holidays and, living in the Valley, many subsequent years of enjoyment.
First of all, check the soil moisture. The plants shouldn’t be so dry that they are wilting, nor should they be in soupy saturated soil. If you don’t want to stick your finger in the dirt, pick up a few different plants. The lighter the pot, the dryer the soil. It should be noted that a good watering can help wilted plants considerably, but they don’t always look as good as they could, so, avoid plants that seem too light or too heavy.
The condition of the leaves is another clue. Most healthy Poinsettias have dark green leaves with even coloration.
Poinsettias with yellowing leaves, leaves with brown tips, or leaves with brown edges won’t last as long when you bring them home.
Similarly, if you leave the plant in your car it will have big temperature swings. Going from hot to cold to hot again may cause the plant to lose its leaves.
The big test is seeing how far along the plant is in its blooming cycle, and that involves a very close look.
The showy colored parts of poinsettias that most people think of as flowers are actually modified leaves known as bracts.
The yellow flowers or cyathia are in the center of the colorful bracts.
The plant will drop its leaves and bracts soon after these flowers shed their pollen. So, for the longest lasting Poinsettias, choose plants with little or no yellow pollen showing.
The freshest plants won’t be blooming yet, so the flowers will not be yellow but will be little rounded green buds. If the yellow flowers look like they’re producing powdery yellow pollen – or they have started to turn brown – the plant is already past its prime.
Once you get your Poinsettias home, you should place them where they’ll last longest. They prefer cool temperature and no wind, so keep them away from the heat or air conditioning vents.
Really warm temperatures can cause them to mature too quickly, and drafts can dry them out and cause them to drop their leaves. Water the plant enough to keep the soil moist, but not wet.
Like other plants, the Poinsettia will look its best if you
don’t allow it to wilt and if you don’t encourage root rot by letting
it sit in water.
Loaded with color and available everywhere, Poinsettias are an easy way to decorate your home with holiday spirit. And living in the Valley allows us to move them outside where we can enjoy them for years. (After Christmas, I’ll be writing about how to grow your Poinsettia out of doors either in pots or in the ground.)