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The cheerful poinsettia is a classic Christmas decoration that is beloved around the world. The poinsettia has been associated with Christmas since the 1600s. The plants are indigenous to dry forests in Central America, where legends have long told of a young girl bringing the crimson blooms to a church as a gift for the baby Jesus.
Poinsettias were introduced to the United States in the mid-1820s by botanist Joel Roberts Poinsett, the US Minister to Mexico for whom the plant is named. Intrigued by their bold colors and winter bloom time, Poinsett began shipping cuttings to his greenhouse in the US so he could further study them.
In nature, the poinsettia can grow to a height of more than ten feet, with thin, spindly stems. The plants were first commercially propagated in the early 1900s by the Ecke family, who developed a grafting method to produce bushy plants with multiple branches and blooms.
There are over 100 varieties of poinsettias. Natural colors include red, burgundy, coral, orange, pink, and ivory. Other colors may be available but have likely been dyed by the grower. Many types of poinsettias feature solid colored bracts, or leaves, but there are also marbled varieties and those with contrasting color on the edges.
If none of the 100 types of poinsettias suit your tastes, there are several ways to decorate the plants. Spray paints designed specifically for delicate petals are available in a range of shades to coordinate with any decor. There are glitter and pearlized sprays created for use on live plants. Craft stores and garden centers may also carry flocking spray to give your tropical plants a snow-covered look.
Poinsettias are often used as stand-alone decor, but the brightly colored leaves also look charming tucked into a larger display. Check your local nursery or garden center for small plants that make a big statement. These may have only one or two blooms but they are the perfect size to be the focal point in an arrangement of holly or evergreen branches. Use these to create a centerpiece on the dining room table, the sideboard, or in the foyer.
When the holidays are winding down, your poinsettia may begin to wind down as well. If you have a green thumb, you don’t need to throw out the holiday plant. By forcing the plant to go dormant with cool, dry, dark conditions, you can extend its life until next year. Once the poinsettia has been dormant for several months, you can reintroduce water and sunlight. With proper care, it may bloom again. You can even keep the poinsettia outdoors in areas without frost.
Poinsettias add a cheerful note to any holiday home. Be a bit cautious, however, if you have curious dogs or cats. Ingesting poinsettias can cause them mild gastrointestinal distress.
This holiday icon would be a thoughtful hostess gift, or a housewarming gift for a family spending their first Christmas in a new home. A poinsettia with unusual coloring would be appreciated by a friend who loves to garden. Whoever the recipient is, the poinsettia is sure to conjure up happy holiday memories.