Poinsettia plants are ubiquitous around the holidays. Chances are you’ve got one or two at your house or office whether you felt compelled to buy them from the neighborhood boy scout, were given one from a party guest or simply default to them out of habit. They’re a nice pop of color for sure, but there’s also something about them that seems dated and a little boring. It doesn’t help that they come in shiny foil wrapped plastic pots that few people bother to take off. But they are comfortingly traditional, beautiful (really, take another look—variegated leaves with a cluster of berry-like flowers at the center) and come in a lot of colors. It’s time to stop taking them for granted and give the poinsettia a little love so they can shine again.
The poinsettia is native to Mexico where it grows as a shrub, blooms in December and has been used in the country for centuries to decorate churches for Christmas. In Mexico it’s known as La Flor de la Nochebuena or Flower of the Holy Night. The plant was brought to the United States by Joel Poinsett, a physician and amateur botanist who was the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico. He brought cuttings from the shrub back to his home state of South Carolina in 1828 where it was cultivated as a smaller plant and, with a bit of characteristic 19th century cultural appropriation, became known as the Poinsettia.
Poinsettia’s are not poisonous, though they do produce a milky sap that can irritate some people’s skin and make pets who snack on the leaves nauseous with the kind of tummy trouble you don’t want to come home to. The flowers of poinsettia are the tiny buds in the center of the colorful leaves called bracts. If you look closely at a dogwood, another bract plant, that’s in bloom you’ll notice its similarity to a poinsettia.
Once you get them out of their shiny gold foil and plastic pots, they already look more attractive. Repot in rustic looking terra cotta for a more casual, farmhouse look or matte black or white for a contemporary look.
Put this plant in a new light by cutting the stems and using them as cut flowers. A perfect single stem in a tall glass cylinder or a simple bouquet loosely arranged in a vase look elegant.
Add evergreens, holly, and other flowers or branches to make a more visually interesting and creative arrangement.
by Laurie Junker
Photo courtesy of BHG