Black Friday turned out to be a real shocker for me. It wasn’t for store fighting, super discounts on large TVs or digital cameras but, instead, it was the rush to buy poinsettias. I was surprised that poinsettias made the “lost leader” list, similarly, to the 39-cents-per-pound turkey at Thanksgiving. Secondly, I was just as shocked that the consumers were willing to wait outside the store at 5 a.m. to buy huge quantities of poinsettias.
I bet Joel Roberts Poinsett, our first Ambassador to Mexico, the one credited with first bringing the plants into the United States in 1825 would have been absolutely stunned. All I can say is “yippee yahoo” because that means the door is opened up even wider for maximizing their use during the long Christmas season, which, I might add, seems to be getting longer every year.
No matter how you choose to use them, festively arranged on the hearth and fireplace mantel, or around the tree, the poinsettia is one of the most treasured Christmas traditions.
The tradition started long ago when they were called “flores de noche buena” (flowers of the holy night) because of the legend of Pepita and Pedro. The story told long ago was that a little girl in Mexico, named Pepita, and her cousin, Pedro, were on their way to church in honor of the Christ child. Pepita was poor and had no money for gifts.
On the way to church, she picked a bouquet of wildflowers, and as she laid them lovingly on the altar, they turned into beautiful poinsettias, hence the name flores de noche buena.
The colorful parts of a poinsettia are actually modified leaves known as bracts. The true flowers are the small, yellow buttons in the centers of the bracts. The traditional color may be red but colors and varieties today have reached staggering numbers. One recent University trial showed 212 varieties on display.
If you are like me, we are similar kids in a candy store when it comes to poinsettias; we love them all and need three of each. Its kind of like, “Give me some ‘Monet,’ ‘Ice Punch,’ ooh that elegant ‘Vision of Grandeur,’ then I need seven of the ‘Carousel’ and five of the ‘Winter Rose.’”
You quickly see the dilemma both for the shopper and the greenhouse producer. With hundreds of varieties, there is just no way one could grow them all. What is important is that you shop for poinsettias now. Poinsettias can hold their color, way past Christmas if you shop wisely.
Look for plants with fully mature, thoroughly colored and expanded bracts, and small green flower buds. Select plants with dark green foliage down to the soil line. This indicates a healthy root system. As a rule of thumb, poinsettias should be 2½ times bigger than their pots. In other words, a 15- to 18-inch-tall plant looks best in a 6-inch container.
Durable plants promise weeks of enjoyment. Look for strong, stiff stems, good leaf and bract retention, and no signs of wilting, breaking or drooping. Carefully inspect packaged poinsettias before purchasing them. With the busy holiday season, forgetting to water can be disastrous for a poinsettia. Feel the soil, and water when it is dry to the touch.
Don’t be shy use poinsettias throughout the home, and don’t be surprised when the family says, “Mom, this was the prettiest Christmas ever.”
Norman Winter is a horticulturist, garden speaker and author of “Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden.” Follow him on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy.