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Thursday, December 16, 2010

What would the holiday season be without the traditional poinsettia? However, the poinsettia is a relative newcomer to the American Christmas tradition. They were practically unheard of 60 years ago. The poinsettia, a native of Mexico, was brought to Europe by Franciscan priests after the Spanish conquests. The colorful flowers were used in their nativity processions.

Poinsettias derived their name from Joel Robert Poinsett who was the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. Poinsett brought cuttings back to his South Carolina home in 1825 and distributed them to his botanist friends. In the early 20th century, the Ecke family of Southern California is credited with the development and popularity of the poinsettia as the potted plant that we know today.

In the last few years, poinsettias have entered a new age. Today's versions of the poinsettia look and perform nothing like the original red types. The colorful bracts (showy petal-like leaves) are available in a variety of colors including yellow, purple, marbled, white, pink, peach, variegated, and others.

When selecting a healthy, long-lasting poinsettia plant for the holidays, look for large brightly colored bracts that are not wilted, broken or damaged. The plant should have a full complement of rich, dark green leaves, even at the base of the plant. Avoid plants where the true flowers are shedding pollen or falling off. Lastly, make sure the plant is insect-free. These uninvited guests tend to hang around long after the holidays end.

Just a reminder, before taking the poinsettia outside, place it in a plant sleeve or carefully wrap it to prevent exposure to cold temperatures. Exposure to freezing temperatures, even for a brief moment, may cause the bracts and leaves to blacken and drop. As soon as you get the poinsettia home, unwrap it and place it near a sunny window or other well-lighted area. Keep the poinsettia away from cold drafts or heat sources. Poinsettias prefer temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees F.

Moisture needs can be determined by checking the potting soil daily with your finger. When the soil becomes dry to the touch, water the plant until it freely flows out the bottom of the pot. If the pot is wrapped in decorative foil, punch a hole in the foil at the bottom of the pot for water drainage and place a saucer underneath the pot. Discard the excess water that drains into the saucer. Today, many florists use molded plastic pot covers rather than foil. When watering these plants, carefully remove the poinsettia from the pot covering, water the plant in the sink, and then drop it back into the molded pot cover. Both over and under watering cause problems for poinsettias.

Most poinsettias are considered long-lasting and should be colorful for months if properly