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Euphorbia pulcherrima
(you-FOR-bee-uh  pul-CARE-i-muh)

Poinsettia, Christmas star, Christmas flower, Painted leaf, Lobster plant, Mexican flameleaf, Mexican flame tree

Poinsettias are leafy plants, typically with dark green leaves topped with colored, modified leaf bracts, which many people incorrectly consider to be the flowers or flower petals. The real flowers are the tiny, mostly yellow berrylike cyathia in the center of each colored leaf bract.

The most common colors are reds and burgundies, but poinsettias also are available in a range of pinks, salmon/apricot/peach, creamy whites and ivories, and pale yellows, as well as a variety of marbled, spotted and striped bicolors. New varieties and colors, including red-orange, plum and lime green, are being developed every year.
     Tinted and dyed poinsettias, in every color and color combination imaginable, have gained favor with some consumers over the past three or four years.

     Poinsettias will last several weeks to several months, depending on variety, interior conditions, care and maturity of the plants at the time of purchase.

     These holiday plants are generally available only in November and December although some hybridizers are experimenting with year-round varieties.

LIGHT Poinsettias require at least six hours of bright indirect (diffused) sunlight every day.
WATER These plants require moderately moist soil at all times. Water them thoroughly, saturating the soil completely, when the soil surface is dry to the touch, then allow them to drain; do not allow pots to sit in water. Water plants immediately if leaves/bracts begin to wilt.
TEMPERATURE Average room temperatures (60 F to 70 F) are required—65 F to 70 F during the daytime and 60 F to 65 F at night. Cool conditions prolong bloom time. Never expose plants to temperatures above 70 F or below 50 F for extended periods.
HUMIDITY Poinsettias thrive in humid air, so in dry interior environments, place pots on a pebble tray or mist leaves frequently. Keep plants away from drafts and the heat and dry air emitted by appliances, fireplaces or ventilating ducts.
FERTILIZER  Plant food is not necessary while poinsettias are in bloom, but plants purchased early in the season can benefit from a high-phosphorous fertilizer applied every two weeks.

ETHYLENE SENSITIVITY Poinsettias’ sensitivity to ethylene differs by variety. Those that are sensitive can experience epinasty (downward bending of leaves and bracts, and leaf stem twisting); leaf drop; and cyathia drop.
PESTS  These plants are susceptible to spider mites, mealybugs, whiteflies, greenflies and scale if displayed in an environment with too-dry air.
Botrytis (gray mold) and root rot can occur with overwatering, too much misting, poor air circulation and/or display in too-cold environments.
Causes include too-low temperatures (lower than 50 F for extended periods), exposure to hot or cold drafts, not enough light, too dry air, and/or overwatering or underwatering. Wrap poinsettias well, in paper and plastic bags, when delivering in low temperatures.
LEAF DROP The cause is either overwatering or underwatering.
The plant was kept too long in a restrictive sleeve (always remove shipping sleeves as soon as plants arrive in your store; the longer a plant remains sleeved, the more its quality will deteriorate). Other causes are root rot, due to overwatering, or exposure to ethylene.
YELLOW OR BROWN LEAF EDGES  The usual reason for this condition is too-dry air and/or too-high temperatures.
BRACT EDGE BURN  Nutrient imbalances (too much fertilizer) and Botrytis (gray mold) can cause this problem (see “Diseases").
CYATHIA DROP, FADING BRACT COLOR Causes include not enough light, too-high temperatures, too-dry air and/or exposure to ethylene.

Getting poinsettias to rebloom can be a challenge and is a bit of a process, but it can be done. Here are the steps to follow.
Cut plants back to about 8 inches in height. Continue regular watering, and fertilize with an all-purpose fertilizer. By the end of May, you should see vigorous new growth.
AFTER ALL CHANCE OF FROST HAS PASSED Place plants outdoors when night temperatures will no longer drop below 55 F. Continue regular watering, and fertilize every two to three weeks.
You may transplant plants into larger pots—no more than 4 inches larger (in diameter) than the original pots. A soil mix with organic matter, such as peat moss or leaf mold, is recommended. In milder climates, you may transplant plants into a well-prepared garden bed that is rich in organic material and has good drainage.
Pruning may be required during the summer to keep plants bushy and compact. Pruning must be done prior to Sept. 1. Keep plants in indirect sun, and water regularly.
For eight to 10 weeks, starting Oct. 1, plants must be kept in complete darkness for 14 continuous hours each day/night, followed by six to eight hours of bright sunlight daily. To achieve the required darkness, move the plants to a totally dark room, or cover them with large boxes. Plants also require nighttime temperatures between 60 F and 70 F.
     IMPORTANT: Stray light of any kind and/or temperatures below 60 F or above 70 F can delay or entirely halt the reflowering process.
     Continue watering and fertilizing regularly. Carefully following this routine should result in a colorful display of blooms for the holiday season.

Check that the cyathia (yellow-and-red berrylike flowers in the center of the colored bracts) are fully developed but unopened and displaying no pollen.
Look for plants with fully mature, thoroughly colored and expanded bracts. Make sure bracts have full, strong color (avoid plants with too much green around the bract edges); are not bruised or blemished; are not droopy; and do not have “burned” or dried-out edges.
An abundance of dark, rich green foliage is a vital sign of good plant health. Look for plants with dense, plentiful foliage all the way down the stems, and avoid plants with wilting, droopy, yellow and/or brown-edged leaves.
Examine the soil in the pots. Avoid waterlogged soil, particularly if the plant appears wilted; this could be a sign of irreversible root rot.
Examine plants carefully for signs of spider mites, mealybugs, whiteflies, greenflies, scale and Botrytis (gray mold).

fun facts


WHAT'S IN A NAME The common name “poinsettia” was given in honor of Joel Robert Poinsett (1775-1851), a gardener, botanist and diplomat from South Carolina, who was the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, from 1825 to 1829; he sent these plants from Taxco, Mexico, to Charleston in 1828, where he began propagating them and sending them to friends and botanical gardens.
     The genus name Euphorbia was given in honor of Euphorbus, the Greek physician to Juba II, the king of Mauretania (on the north African coast), around the end of the first century B.C.
     The specific epithet “pulcherrima” means “very handsome/pretty.”

FAMILY Euphorbia is a member of the Euphorbiaceae (spurge) family. Relatives include Codiaeum (croton) and Stillingia.  

HOME SWEET HOME Poinsettia plants are native to Mexico.

OLD WIVES' TALE Contrary to widely circulated misinformation, poinsettias are not poisonous to humans or other animals—unless ingested in enormous quantities, and then only mild discomfort would be experienced.

U.S. PRODUCTION Modern-day production of poinsettias began in Southern California in about 1909, when the Ecke family grew them as cut flowers. Visit for more information on Paul Ecke Ranch or poinsettias.


Some information provided by:
Botanica, by R.G. Turner Jr. and Ernie Wasson
Chain of Life Network® ,
Complete Guide to Conservatory Plants, The, by Ann Bonar
Complete Houseplant Survival Manual, The, by Barbara Pleasant
Dictionary of Plant Names by Allen J. Coombes
Flowering & Foliage Plants, Book 2 by Debra Terry Graber/The John Henry Company
Hortus Third, by Liberty Hyde Bailey and Ethel Zoe Bailey
Houseplant Encyclopedia, The, by Ingrid Jantra and Ursula Kruger
New House Plant Expert, The, by Dr. D.G. Hessayon
New Pronouncing Dictionary of Plant Names, by Florists’ Publishing Company
Paul Ecke Ranch;
SAF Flower & Plant Care by Terril A Nell, Ph.D. and Michael S. Reid, Ph.D.
Stearn’s Dictionary of Plant Names for Gardeners by William T. Stearn

Photo courtesy of The John Henry Company

Super Floral Retailing • Copyright 2009
Florists' Review Enterprises, Inc.