Except for the Christmas tree, no plant says “Christmas” like the poinsettia. Bred to bloom best throughout December, the brilliant red plant is a perfect centerpiece, looks great next to the Christmas tree or on a holiday buffet, and makes an easy seasonal hostess gift for neighbors and friends. (And, hey, they’re on sale starting today, two for just $12 – so you can make a splash with a whole display of them, or buy one for yourself, one for a gift.)
There’s a wonderful Mexican legend about how the poinsettia first became associated with Christmas. According to the story, a poor girl was on her way to church on Christmas Eve, but had no money for a gift or offering. She gathered some tropical weeds and fashioned them into a bouquet. When she laid them at the feet of the baby Jesus inside the church, the branches supposedly burst into the brilliant red we now associate with the poinsettia. To this day, the poinsettia is known as the flor de noche buena in Mexico – Spanish for “Christmas Eve flower.”
What else do you need to know about the poinsettia?
- They’re not poisonous after all. For years, you’ve probably heard that poinsettias can be deadly to children and pets. Not true. Ohio State University researchers actually disproved this as far back as the early ‘70s, but the myth kept getting repeated, possibly because some plants related to poinsettias ARE poisonous. Yes, a small dog who eats an entire poinsettia could end up sick to its stomach, and may vomit, and a child who nibbles on a leaf may get an upset stomach, but that’s true of many plants. However, it’s unlikely even an animal would eat more than a leaf or two; they’re bitter and inedible to humans and animals alike.
- They don’t like the cold. The poinsettia is native to Mexico and Central America, so it thrives in warmer, slightly humid temperatures. Some of the traditional spots to showcase poinsettias, including the hearth and on windowsills, actually may cause them to drop leaves or wither, as poinsettias do not like drafty, cool places. They’ll do best if you don’t let temperatures drop below 65 degrees.
- Don’t overwater. A poinsettia needs water only when the soil is actually dry to the touch. If the air in your home is warm and dry, that may mean every few days. Don’t let it rest in standing water, either. In between waterings, you may want to mist poinsettias briefly with plain water, to keep the air moist and humid.