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Published: Wednesday, 12/25/2013

IN THE GARDEN

Poinsettia: 
plant for Christmas

BY KELLY HEIDBREDER
GARDENING COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE
Kelly Heidbreder Kelly Heidbreder
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A little girl finds a fist full of weeds alongside the road. She feels it is not a worthy gift to give the Christ Child, but her cousin tells her that these weeds along with the love in her heart will be enough.

 

She lays them in the Nativity at their church altar and as she kneels to pray, the flowers transform into the bright red leaves of the poinsettia. This is an old Mexican legend that gives the most famous Christmas plant its name ‘Flores de Noche Buena’, or ‘Flowers of the Holy Night’.

 

Today, poinsettias come in many different colors and sizes and can be traced back to the time of Montezuma. They are native to Central America and are in full bloom during our winter months, with colorful leaves that are shaped like the Star of David. No wonder they are the most popular plant for decorating and gift-giving at Christmas.

 

 

More than seasonal

 

This colorful plant has a botanical name of Euphorbia pulcherrima, which means very beautiful.

 

Those big red blossoms aren’t blossoms at all. They are actually colored leaves called bracts. The flowers on a poinsettia are the tiny buttons in the center of the plant and the green stems are called petioles.

 

If your poinsettia it gets too much water too dry, it will start dropping its leaves. Keep them evenly moist by using ice cubes to water them. Put six ice cubes on top of the soil each week and they will slowly melt, keeping your poinsettia perfectly watered with hardly any effort.

 

Keep your poinsettia strong by giving it some food. Osmocoat or Nutraculture are slow release fertilizers. Feed them one time through the holidays to keep their roots happy.

 

 

Practical poinsettia

 

The Christmas plant gets its name from Joel Roberts Poinsett. He was the first United States Ambassador to Mexico back in the early 1800’s. He took cuttings from a shrub with what he thought was red flowers and brought them back to his home in South Carolina.

 

There is a white milky sap that comes from the stems of the poinsettia. Long ago, it was used to treat fevers and is an ingredient to make latex.

 

Many people think a poinsettia is poisonous, but research at Ohio State University says no. Toxicity tests were done on the plant back in 1971 and showed no ill effects when unusually high doses were fed to rats. Eating a bushel basket or two of the leaves would make you sick to your stomach first before you would feel the ill effects from anything toxic in the plant.

 

So whether you pronounce its name poin-set-ee-uh, or poin-set-uh, enjoy this miracle plant with its big beautifully colored leaves, and tiny yellow flowers. Give it six ice cubes a week, keep it warm and fed and consider it a very humble gift to celebrate the season. Merry Christmas!

Contact Kelly Heidbreder at getgrowing@gmail.com 



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