Advent Thought For The Day: 15

December 15th: Poinsettia

On at least five occasions this month I have strayed over to the fresh flower section at my local supermarket, picked up a poinsettia and then promptly put it back down again. I want to like them, but I just can’t. I am disappointed in myself when I can’t find anything kind to write about a plant, but I struggle when it comes to these bright-bracted Mexican natives.

To begin with, poinsettias are particularly difficult to place in the home. The RHS describes them as ‘cheery’, which really is damning them with faint praise. Okay, so they have bright red flowers and rich green leaves, rendering them technically ‘Christmassy’, but they lack any finesse and are far too showy to blend in. A poinsettia screams ‘It’s Christmas’ louder than Slade, but unfortunately it has no off switch. On my recent visit to The Netherlands I came across red ones, pink ones and white ones, poinsettias with white paint splashes and aberrations with contorted bracts or multi-coloured ‘flowers’ grafted onto a stem and trained as a standard. Even en masse they aren’t pretty.

Poinsettias are divas when it comes to their cultural needs. Simply getting them home from the shop can finish them off, since even a short period below 13-15ºC can trigger a slow, painful death. If a poinsettia starts to wilt when you get it home it will probably continue to deteriorate no matter what you do. This can be caused by cold conditions in the shop or in transit. There’s no way of knowing what your poinsettia has been through before you purchase it, so always buy from a source you trust. Once at home, Poinsettias need bright, filtered light, away from strong sun and draughts. Keep them firmly on the dry side and mist regularly to create humidity around the plant. If you are lucky it might last a few weeks. Unless you are a glutton for punishment, do not attempt to coax your poinsettia back into flower the following year. Chuck it on the compost heap after Christmas and buy a new one in eleven months, if you must. There are plants that deserve your energies more.

To end today’s post on a more positive note, I will share with you the story of how Poinsettias became associated with Christmas:

“Once upon a time there was a poor little Mexican girl named Pepita. Pepita was so poor that she had nothing to give the baby Jesus at her Christmas church service. Trying to cheer her up, her brother Pedro said “Pepita, even the smallest gift given by someone who loves him will make Jesus happy.”

Pepita could think of nothing to give, however tiny. Spying a cluster of weeds sprouting from the gutter she collected a small handful and fashioned them into a posy. As she entered the church and walked up to the alter all she could feel was embarrassment. Then she recalled what her brother had said and began to feel a little better. She knelt and placed her tiny bouquet of weeds at the foot of the nativity and closed her eyes. When she reopened them the weeds had turned into bright red flowers. Everyone who saw them claimed it was a miracle. From that day on the flowers that sprang from Pepita’s modest posy were known as the ‘Flores de Noche Buena’ or ‘Flowers of the Holy Night’. We know them as poinsettias.” TFG.

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32 thoughts on “Advent Thought For The Day: 15

  1. I don’t have any at my house either. They have tortured these plants into every color imaginable. I am happy to read I am not the only one that thinks they aren’t worth the effort. Sweet story behind the Christmas thought.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. They are horrible, aren’t they? I have an accidental red flower blooming for Christmas – a pineapple sage still battling the storm here in Cornwall, I’m hoping to pick the remainder of stems to bring into the house next week.

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    1. I’ve a red salvia in the greenhouse which is still looking very healthy. I have no heating in there, but it’s in a sheltered spot and is just ticking over. You’ve had it rough down there in Cornwall ……. and there’s more windy weather coming.

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      1. If the cyclamen is Shirley Ballas, perfectly poised and immaculate at all times, then the pointsettia is whoever is paired with Anton du Beke, bright, brave, and showy but ultimately doomed to wither in the hot house atmosphere.

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  3. Thank you for the backstory and timely comments about languishing poinsettias. 😛 Mine has been sulking since I brought it home last week. It still looks decent but all of the lower leaves have come off one by one. :-/

    I hope you have a lovely Christmas!

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    1. That’s exactly what happens. It will have been grown in a dazzlingly bright greenhouse somewhere in The Netherlands and now it’s protesting at being moved. I hope at least the red leaves remain at Christmas. You can always disguise the lower portion with tinsel, ribbon or other plants. Dan

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  4. Ooh! Erm I must confess to liking the cream ones, but am not fussed about the red ones. To be honest, like tinsel, they remind me of Christmas and home as a child and so for that reason, i cant send them to room whatever number – but thank you for the post Dan!

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  5. I think it’s not so much that poinsettias are intrinsically ugly, more that they have become associated with mass produced Christmas tawdriness which is somehow rather depressing in its attempts to be ‘cheery’. I’ve got it in the same box as multi coloured flashing lights, old mates of my husband’s who wear Christmas jumpers, socks which sing Jingle Bells etc. Maybe amaryllis too, another strange Christmas plant which as a keen gardener I am often given as a Christmas present. But I know I am just being bah humbug! Having decorated the mantelpiece with pine cones, rose hips and candles, my grandsons were profoundly unimpressed with my efforts. Where were the decorations? So that’s me told, quite right too 😊

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  6. I have just been gifted a Poinsettia and am quite delighted with it! On visiting yesterday my mum expressed surprised to find said Poinsettia on our kitchen table, saying ‘I thought you hated Poinsettia?’ ‘Do I?’ I said. Gardeners are very fickle and what we hate one year we inextricably fall in love with the next. It might be a brief fling, but I will enjoy it while it lasts!

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  7. How funny. I couldn’t stop myself laughing reading your views on the Poinsettia. Seeing them in the supermarkets from now on will certainly bring a smile to my face. Well done Dan. Really enjoy your gardening views. Christmas Greetings!

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  8. Poinsettias in UK are ugly little dwarfs, but in warm places such as southern Spain they grow into magnificent trees with astounding elegance all the year round. I think it is partly the quality of the light and partly the ratio of red to green that make the difference. The pink and the white ones look washed-out in strong sunlight. Poor things, they didn’t choose to be messed about by agribusiness!!

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  9. Very sweet historical context. I’m with you, though..not a favourite flower of ours either! Something even slightly aversive about how early they are displayed here.

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    1. I have seen them reach shrub-like proportions, but never growing as trees. Somehow I think I could cope with a poinsettia tree rather more easily than a few cuttings shoved in a pot. My local supermarket now have them with red glitter on the bracts, demonstrating there are no depths to which one might go to desecrate God’s creations!

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  10. I was firmly in the Poinsettia haters camp until an arrangement by Justine Hand on Gardenista had me seeing them differently. I had great fun issuing the Poinsettia challenge that year:
    http://www.thedangergarden.com/2015/12/the-poinsettia-challenge-is-on.html and seeing what my blog readers came up with:
    http://www.thedangergarden.com/2015/12/the-poinsettia-challenge-so-many.html

    No Poinsettias in my house this year however.

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    1. I could definitely be swayed by some of those ideas, especially the ones using cream-coloured poinsettias. I am contemplating going the whole hog and attempting integration of poinsettias into my garden room as an experiment this Christmas. I can afford to be brave as I know they won’t live long!

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