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.