Poinsettia is a vibrant houseplant that brightens up your home at Christmas. It has bright red star-shaped leaves that are often mistaken for flowers. But in fact they are bracts, designed to help attract insects to the small flowers in the centre.
Most poinsettia are red, but they can also be white, pink and orange. And they make great table centrepieces and feature houseplants.
Poinsettia is probably the most popular Christmas houseplant. In the UK we buy around 7 million poinsettias at Christmas, and the figure is growing.
They have a reputation for being difficult to grow, but it’s not hard once you understand their preferred conditions.
Poinsettia plants are a type of euphorbia (Euphorbia pulcherrima). They are native to Mexico and were brought to the USA in 1825 by the American ambassador to Mexico, Joel Poinsett.
The plant was originally cultivated by the Aztecs, who called it Cuetlaxochitl (flower which wilts). For the Aztecs, poinsettia’s brilliant red colour symbolised purity and it was used in religious ceremonies.
The Aztecs also used the red leaves to dye fabric and the plant’s sap was used as medicine to control fever.
Some people believe that poinsettia are poisonous, but in fact the toxicity is very mild and the plants are safe to grow at home.
How to care for poinsettia
Poinsettia are easy to grow at home, but yet many people have problems with them. One of the most common problems is that they simply wilt and die, and nothing can save them.
Many people think they have done something wrong, but the most likely cause is nothing to do with you. Poinsettias are tender plants and do not like cold temperatures. Exposure to icy draughts, even for a few minutes, can harm the foliage.
Make sure to choose plants from a reputable supplier and check that they have not been stored near draughty doorways. You should also take care when bringing them home from the shop to shield them from freezing temperatures.
Ask the shop to wrap the plant in paper or cover with a plastic bag so it is completely protected.
What to do if poinsettia wilts
If your poinsettia does begin to wilt, soak the rootball in warm water, then allow the excess liquid to drain away. It should perk up within an hour or so. Keep in stable conditions so it can recover.
Where to grow poinsettia
Poinsettia are tender plants that grow naturally in warm climates so keep them in a nice warm room, between 16C and 22C.
The most important thing is to avoid dramatic temperature fluctuations. Poinsettia dislike intense heat or icy draughts, so avoid placing them on hot, sunny windowsills or spots near radiators, fires or doorways.
How to water poinsettia
Be careful not to overwater poinsettias as it can quickly kill them. Only water when the surface of the compost appears dry – a couple of times a week should be enough. Give them a good soaking in warm water and allow the compost to drain properly.
You can also apply a high-potassium feed every three to four weeks to keep them looking spectacular.
Poinsettia like humidity, which is difficult to maintain indoors, especially with central heating. The best way to create this is to stand the pot on a saucer filled with gravel.
Pour a little water on the saucer, making sure it doesn’t touch the bottom of the pot. This will evaporate and create a humid atmosphere around the foliage. Keep the saucer topped up for bright, rich, healthy leaves and bracts.
With a little care and not too much watering, your poinsettia should last well into the New Year.
Check out these other great Christmas houseplants – I’ve picked the top 5!