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A Poinsettia Primer

Although it is a holiday mainstay, the poinsettia plant is a mystery for many Americans. Here are the answers to some common questions about this traditional favorite.

Landscapes Winter 2019

Photo by Gary Clark

With proper care, poinsettias can thrive for months. These poinsettias were grown by Dixie Green, Inc., of Centre, Alabama, a greenhouse operation supported by Alabama Farm Credit.

Video – Dixie Green
Video – Dixie Green

 Do poinsettias prefer bright light or shade?

They like bright locations away from heating vents, fireplaces and cold drafts. Their ideal temperature is between 65 and 70 degrees.

How should I water the plant?

Overwatering is one of the most common mistakes when caring for poinsettias. For best results, remove the decorative foil wrapper and water your poinsettia thoroughly over a sink until the water begins to drain out the bottom of the pot. Wait until it stops dripping before replacing the foil. Repeat roughly once a week. Its root ball should neither be drenched nor dry out.

Are poinsettias poisonous?

Poinsettias are not poisonous to humans or animals, contrary to common myth. However, their leaves contain a milky sap that can cause pets and young children to become nauseous.

Are the colorful parts flowers?

No, those are bracts or modified leaves. Poinsettias do have flowers, but they are very small and inconspicuous.

How long should I keep my poinsettia?

In its native Mexico, the poinsettia grows as a perennial shrub. As a houseplant, it is generally treated as an annual and discarded after the holiday season. However, if cared for properly, your plant can survive well into the following year.

How do I pronounce poinsettia?

The correct pronunciation is poin-set-EE-yuh, not poinset-uh. Linguists say that it has been mispronounced for so long, the correct usage now sounds incorrect to many Americans. For this reason, both pronunciations are accepted in many dictionaries.

– Mark Johnson

Related article: Growing the Colors of Christmas

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