Holiday poinsettias: History & care tips

Poinsettias were introduced to the United States in the 1820’s from Mexico

Poinsettias are the quintessential holiday plant. They are considered by many to be an essential part of holiday decorating. With proper care, poinsettias can continue to thrive long after the holidays are past. Getting them to re-flower can be a tricky endeavor and requires commitment. There are two ways of thinking about this. There are those that consider the plants disposable after the holidays and those that are willing to nurture them for the long term in hopes they will bloom again the following year.

History & General Facts About Poinsettias

  • Joel Roberts Poinsett, a botanist and physician who was also the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, introduced the plant into the U.S. in the 1820’s after noticing them growing in the wild during a trip to Mexico.
  • December 12, 2017, is National Poinsettia Day. The day commemorates the anniversary of the death of Joel Poinsett and honors this iconic plant.
  • There are over 100 cultivated varieties of poinsettia with new introductions every year. They range in color from lighter shades of red to dark burgundy, white, salmon, creamy white, speckled, and even dyed blue, orange, and purple plants. (You either love the dyed plants or not!) There are choices for all decorating styles.
  • Poinsettias are an economically major floricultural crop.
  • They belong to the Euphorbiaceae or spurge family.
  • The showy colored parts of poinsettias are not flowers but are colored bracts or modified leaves. The flowers (cyathia) are yellow and are located in the center of the bracts.
  • Poinsettias are not considered poisonous, but it is probably best to keep small children and pets away from them. Many plants in the spurge family ooze a milky sap from leaves and stems that can cause irritation, especially for people with latex allergies.

    poinsettias dyed blue
    Poinsettias dyed blue

Care of Poinsettias

  • Remove or poke holes in the decorative foil on the bottom of the container to ensure the water will drain. Good drainage is essential!
  • Water only when the soil feels dry to the touch. Water thoroughly. Allow the water to drain freely from the bottom of the container but do not let them sit in water-filled saucers.
  • Keep away from cold, drafty windows and drying heat sources. They prefer daytime room temperatures between 60⁰ and 70⁰ F and in the mid-fifties overnight.
  • Place in bright, indirect light, such as filtered direct sunlight through a sheer curtain.
  • Fertilizer is not necessary during bloom time. Begin to fertilize using a balanced houseplant fertilizer in late winter until late summer.
  • Our web page about Poinsettias provides information on post-holiday care and reblooming.
  • Poinsettias tend to have few problems, especially if given proper care. Whitefly is the most common pest.

By Debra Ricigliano, former Extension Program Assistant and Certified Professional Horticulturist, Home & Garden Information Center

3 thoughts on “Holiday poinsettias: History & care tips

  1. tonytomeo November 27, 2017 / 1:36 pm

    Someone else just wrote about how the poinsettia was popularized in Southern California many decades ago. It was interesting to hear again.

  2. ephraimblessing January 27, 2018 / 10:24 pm

    I find the poinsettia to be a beautiful plant on its own, without forcing it to bloom. I find them to be very forgiving and without the blooms, the concern for animal safety is eliminated.

  3. Debbie January 29, 2018 / 9:55 am

    First, thank you for your comment. Poinsettias are a member of the Euphorbiaceae family. Euphorbias produce a white, milky sap that can cause irritation to humans and pets if they come in contact with it. This sap is produced in the stems, foliage and the colored bracts (which many consider to be the flowers). So since the entire plant produces this sap irritation can occur whether or not they are forced to bloom again or not.

    Debra Ricigliano, Home & Garden Information Center

Leave a Reply