Poinsettia

The colorful petal-like leaves are not actually the flowers but are really bracts.

potted poinsetta

Photo: Dave Shafer

The original poinsettia was bright scarlet, but now pink, white, bi-colored and even yellow ones are available.

Potted Poinsettia plants are a traditional part of our holiday decorations. The plant is native to Mexico where it grows, out of doors, as a common awkward looking shrub. The colorful petal-like leaves are not actually the flowers but are really bracts.

The botanical name for the plant is “Euphorbia pulcherrima” and “pulcherrima” means “very beautiful.” The original poinsettia was bright scarlet, but now pink, white, bi-colored and even yellow ones are available.

In cold climates they are grown in greenhouses and used only as houseplants, and the luxuriant hot house specimens have become a lot more sophisticated than their country cousins. It is possible, though a lot of trouble, to get a potted poinsettia to perform its colorful display in subsequent years.

They need six to eight weeks where they have 15-hour nights of darkness before reblooming. This means putting them in and out of a closet or other dark spot.

I prefer to treat them as glamorous holiday guests. They are named after Joel Poinsett, a native of Charleston, an amateur botanist and our first Ambassador to Mexico. Because he brought them home in 1830, they are in our homes for the holidays.

Moya Andrews

, originally from Queensland, Australia, served as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculties at Indiana University until 2004. In the same year, Moya began hosting Focus on Flowers for WFIU. In addition, Moya does interviews for Profiles, is a member of the Bloomington Hospital Board, and authored Perennials Short and Tall from Indiana University Press.

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