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Poinsettia time

December 15, 2017
By H.I. JEAN SHIELDS (news@breezenewspapers.com) , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Christmas season is the season for a lot of good things, one of the most special being the arrival of thousands of beautiful poinsettia plants. So many colors nowadays to choose from, so many types of stores have them for sale, and they are cost efficient, especially during this holiday.

Easy care and lasting for weeks, they can just be tossed after the new year, put out in the garden for next year or just let them slowly shed some leaves and thin out as they set among other less colorful plants on the lanai.

The poinsettia {Euphorbia pulcherrima) is a common import plant species of the diverse Spurge family (Euphorbiaceae), indigenous to Mexico. The total U.S. plant production was valued at $325 million in 1997. Buying these plants is not only good for us but for the economy.

This beautiful plant has an historical story also.

The plant flourished in southern New Mexico long before Christianity came to the Western Hemisphere. In those times they even grew as small trees. The Aztec population used the brilliant leaves to make a purple dye and the milky sap was used to treat fevers and stomach problems.

The leaves are supposed to taste terrible and the sap can cause skin irritation, however it's one of those cases where the cure was worse than the cause, but worked.

The modern world has done a lot of testing and now agrees that for a child to be poisoned, they would have to eat about 500 of the rotten tasting leaves - not a likely thing to happen. However, young pets who seem to need to taste bad things might have some stomach upset.

Even adults who are allergic to latex may find the white sap a skin irritant. Quickly washing with some soap and water should clear any problems.

This plant, of course, had an Indian name, Cuetiaxochi. In 1828, Joel Roberts Poinsett, the son of a French physician was appointed as the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, by President Madison.

Poinsett had graduated from medical school, however was a more dedicated botany lover. He maintained several green houses on his Greenville, S.C., plantations. He became enchanted by the brilliant red plants after a visit to Mexico.

He immediately sent plants home and began propagating and then cultivating them into smaller sizes, sending them to good friends and botanical gardens.

Poinsett's good friend and fellow botanist and nurseryman, Robert Buist, sold them.

The name Euphorbia pulcherrima, means beautiful, however, that is not a great name for marketing. The accepted English speaking countries soon were calling the plants poinsettia, after the original Joel Roberts Poinsett who discovered the plants.

The brilliant leaves of the plant are not the actual flower. The tiny yellow center parts are the flower. A plant with not too much of the yellow showing yet will last longer.

Keep the plant in a cool room, without drafts, and bright indirect light. Soil should be moist, and the plant must not stand in water. A plant in a nice tin foil wrapper is dangerous because when you water the plant, the water will drain through the light soil and not drain away.

I take mine out and let them set awhile, or sometimes just poke or slit the bottom of the foil so water will drain out. Remember to have the plant setting on or in a saucer to catch drips. If the soil feels dry, water to drain and wait, even if it takes a week before it needs more.

Setting under an A/C draft is not good at all. No direct sun, unless it is late afternoon and not hot.

Do not need to feed it as a houseplant. When it gets leggy you can toss it or tuck it in someplace where only the top color shows.

To plant outdoors for next year, in soil you have to set it out and let it get leggy first. Water to keep moist, or rain may work. Then you will need to cut it back and plant it is soil but it will prefer to have no lights at night, only daylight.

There is more - we can talk about that later in the spring. Or check the computer for instructions.

December 12 is National Poinsettia Day, to honor the late Joel Robert Poinsett.

You must know about the lovely Mexican legend of the poinsettia

A long time ago a poor Mexican girl had no gift to give to the Christ Child at the Christmas Eve service, in her small village church.

She was very sad and ashamed as she walked to church with her older cousin Pedro. Seeing how sad she was, he told her not to worry, as she knelt by the roadway to gather a bouquet of weeds and wild flowers.

He told her that he was sure that even the most humble gift, given in love would be acceptable in the Christ Child's eyes.

She sadly entered the church and placed her little bouquet, from along the roadway at the alter.

Suddenly the bouquet burst into blooms of brilliant red and all who saw it were sure it was a Christmas miracle.

They are forever "Fiores de Noche Buena," "Flowers of the Holy Night."

The poinsettia blooms each year only during the Christmas season.

The plant is more than just a pretty splash of color, it is a reminder of the true meaning of Christmas.

Enjoy the season, and remember the reason.

Till we meet again ...

H.I. Jean Shields is Past President of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.

 
 
 

 

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