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Ask the ISU Extension garden expert about: poinsettias

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What should I look for when buying a poinsettia?

Poinsettias are available in a wide range of colors. Red is the most popular color. However, poinsettias also are available in purple, burgundy, pink, salmon, white, cream and gold. There are also bi-colored, marbled and speckled poinsettias. The colorful part of the poinsettia, commonly referred to as the plant's flowers, actually are modified leaves or bracts. The true flowers are yellow to green, button-like objects located in the center of the bracts.

When selecting a poinsettia, choose a well-shaped plant with dark green foliage and well-colored bracts. The true flowers should be shedding little or no pollen. Avoid poinsettias with wilted foliage, broken stems or few leaves.

How do I care for a poinsettia?

Place the poinsettia in a plant sleeve or carefully wrap it before transporting the plant home. Exposing the poinsettia to freezing temperatures, even for a few minutes, may cause its bracts and leaves to blacken and drop. As soon as you get home, unwrap the poinsettia and place it near a sunny window or other well-lighted location. However, don't let the plant touch the cold window pane. Also, keep the poinsettia away from cold drafts or heat sources. Poinsettias prefer temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Water needs can be determined with the finger test. Check the potting soil daily with your finger. When the soil surface becomes dry to the touch, water the plant until water begins to flow out the bottom of the pot. The pots of most poinsettias are placed inside decorative pot covers. When watering a poinsettia, carefully remove the pot covering, water the plant in the sink, then drop the poinsettia back into the pot cover.

When given good care, a poinsettia should remain attractive for several weeks, well after the Christmas and New Year's Day holidays.

Is the poinsettia poisonous?

Contrary to popular belief, the poinsettia is not poisonous. However, it is not intended for human or animal consumption. Individuals are still advised to keep the poinsettia out of the reach of small children and pets.

One potential health concern associated with the poinsettia is dermatitis or an irritation to the skin. When a poinsettia stem is cut or broken, a milky sap oozes from the wound. Some individuals may develop a skin irritation if the milky sap comes in contact with their skin,