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The Most Misunderstood Houseplant: The Poinsettia

By Sam Smith


Hiya buds, Sam here again!

The pandemic sure did a number on all of us, didn’t it? It’s amazing the kinds of hobbies one can discover when forced to remain in one place for an extended period of time. Some people got a puppy. A lot of people took up small flock chicken farming. Sourdough starters around the world rejoiced as their progeny moved to bigger, better ovens! Many of us got a wee bit obsessed with houseplants. I say this as I guiltily water a displeased pothos, currently in the process of losing half of its leaves, while my sourdough proofs on the counter, and my dog lays lazily under my desk. A rooster crows in the background. I am the poster child of pandemic hobbies, but I digress. I want to circle back to those houseplants.


Specifically, I want to talk about a seasonal houseplant, the bastard child of all houseplants, the poinsettia. The plant we all bring home in late November or early December, only to discard a few weeks later once the bracts fall and it becomes… well… a regular houseplant. Not unlike the near 2 billion pounds of pumpkin that get wasted every year once Halloween has passed, the most common occurrence is to simply discard the poinsettia once the blooms have fallen. Tossed to the curb with your Christmas tree, the metric ton of wrapping paper, toy packaging, and the fruitcake your aunt brings over every year, much to everyone’s dismay. 


It seems harmless to discard a plant, right? I mean, it’s a plant. It’ll break down and cause no harm! It’s no different than pulling a few weeds, trimming back the errant branches on a tree. Except it is different. Consider the amount of soil, water, energy, and time that goes into growing one single poinsettia from seed. Not to mention transporting them all over the place. Now, multiply that by 35 MILLION. That’s a lot of resources! And you’re gonna throw that away? I don’t think so. 

There is a super simple solution to this perceived problem. Once the bracts fall, keep the damn plant. It’s a perennial, and you can keep it alive for years. It will continue to bloom each December, making it festive once more. I’ll break down a few basic poinsettia pointers for you to make the whole “house plant caretaker” role a little bit easier on you.

  • Poinsettia are native to Mexico and are actually a shrub or a tree. They can grow up to 13ft tall! There are over 100 varieties available that range in colour. The red "flowers" are not actually flowers at all, but bracts which are specialized leaves.
  • Contrary to popular belief, poinsettias are not poisonous. While some humans and pets are sensitive to the plant’s sap, which contains latex, it is not fatal. It can, however, cause irritation to the skin, eyes, mucus membranes or digestive system (if consumed). If you have a latex allergy, do not touch the sap, or consume the plant (though hopefully that goes without saying).
  • Poinsettias need both sunshine and dark nights to bloom. The shorter days and longer nights of late fall and early winter are what cause poinsettias to bloom this time of year. If they are planted near artificial light, it disrupts their blooming cycle. Aim for around 15 hours or so of full darkness per night in the Fall to get your plant to bloom.
  • Temperature is very important during the blooming cycle. Normal room temperature of 20°C during the day, and 16 to 17°C  at night are best. Too much heat will shorten the blooming period. Poinsettias are sensitive to extreme temperatures (below 10°C and over 30°C).
  • In the summer, once all danger of frost has passed, you can move your poinsettia outside. They do well in semi-shaded or even full sun areas. Keep it watered regularly. 
  • Prune your plant twice a year; once in late April, and once more in late July to early August. Cut the stems back by one third. If you want your plants to bloom again, never pinch them back after September. 
  • After pruning, they will require less water. Make sure to let the surface dry out in between waterings.

That’s basically it! It’s a relatively easy houseplant to care for, and can serve as a centerpiece or decorative holiday plant for many years to come with just a little bit of effort. I believe in you. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some sourdough to get out of the oven. 

 

Sources: 

1) https://www.poison.org/articles/poinsettias

2) https://web.extension.illinois.edu/poinsettia/facts

3) https://extension.umn.edu/houseplants/poinsettia

4) https://extension.usu.edu/archive/could-you-should-you-keep-your-poinsettia-year-round

5) https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/expert-answers/poinsettia-plants/faq-20058304

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