The holiday season is upon us, and the hustle and bustle of gift shopping, meal planning and tree decorating is in full swing. In most households this season, there will be only one other plant in the house that competes with the Christmas tree for attention – the classic poinsettia.
There’s no mistaking the red and green foliage of a poinsettia. Not only are their festive and flashy colours a perfect compliment to any holiday decor, but they also make perfect hostess gifts at Christmas parties. They’ve become exceptionally affiliated with our holiday season, which is interesting considering the poinsettia isn’t native to Canada at all!
The Poinsettia Story
The myth that sparked the popularity of poinsettias was born in Mexico. According to legend, a young girl was on her way to church on Christmas Day when she noticed people walking past with elaborate gifts to offer at the altar.
The girl was poor, and when she reached the church and saw the bounty the townspeople had brought, she began to cry in shame. Another young girl saw this happening and consoled her, saying that Jesus cared little for expensive gifts. What really mattered was that the gift was given with love.
Heartened by her friend’s words, the poor girl searched and searched for something to bring to the church. All she could find was a patch of green weeds, so she picked them gently into a bouquet and carried them to the altar. As she passed, the wealthier townspeople snickered at her humble offering, but as she laid them down, something incredible happened.
The weeds transformed into vibrant and beautiful red flowers as everyone in the church stared in disbelief! The little girl’s love was rewarded with a miracle. From then on, every Christmas the poinsettias – or ‘Flores de Noche Buena’ (Flower of the Holy Night) – would bloom at the edge of every road in Mexico to commemorate the little girl’s gift.
While the story of the poinsettia is a myth, it’s true that poinsettias hail from Mexico, and as common as they are to see in the middle of our frigid Manitoba winters, they are tropical plants that need a little warmth to stay healthy. Display poinsettias away from windows to protect them from cold drafts. They don’t need to be in a hot area, but the leaves are particularly vulnerable to the chilly weather.
By the same token, keep poinsettias away from hot air vents, which can dry them out. An area in your home with a comfortable climate and good air circulation will keep them happiest.
Poinsettias are sensitive to overwatering, which makes them a lovely low-maintenance plant at this time of year. We could all use more time for our endless to-do lists during this season, so take daily watering out of the equation!
Let the soil dry out before watering your poinsettia again. They thrive in the drought-prone regions of Mexico, and are well-adapted to going a little extra time between “rains”.
Picking a Poinsettia
To make sure your poinsettia lasts through the Christmas season, it’s important to be selective when visiting the garden centre! Deep, rich colour and expansive foliage are good signs that the poinsettia plant is healthy. Avoid choosing plants with discoloured leaves.
If purchasing in early-to-mid November, choose a poinsettia with buds. This is a younger plant that will continue to bloom over the longest period.
In late November to early December, look for poinsettias that are still yellow in the middle. This indicates a recent bloom, which will last several weeks.
Unless Christmas is just around the corner, avoid purchasing poinsettias with dark-coloured centres. These are older blooms which will lose their colour soon.
Poinsettias are a beloved tradition that add a dose of colour and a touch of tradition to any household. They may not be native to our wintery climate, but with a little care, they make an excellent Christmas companion regardless of geography. If you’re giving the gift of a poinsettia this year, just remember to give it with love!