The Non-Poisonous Poinsettia

Poinsettia Weekend is coming up from November 27-29th and nothing screams “Christmas” like a poinsettia. Decades of hybridization have produced the wonderful variety of colors which characterize the poinsettia today and there’s one for practically every home decor.
Brought to this country in 1825 from Mexico, by Ambassador Joel Poinsett, the poinsettia was originally a Mexican wildflower. The star like shape is supposed to be a reminder of the Star of Bethlehem.
A Mexican legend tells of a poor girl who picked some poinsettias along the roadside because she had no other gift to offer the Virgin Mary. When she placed them before the Virgin’s statue, they burst into brilliant red blooms.
The common misconception about poinsettias is that they are poisonous and therefore should not be around pets or children. Fortunately, this simply isn’t true. The national information center for poision control centers, POISINDEX, says that a child would have to ingest 500-600 poinsettia leaves to exceed the experimental doses in which no toxicity was found.
Although it is a non-food product and not intended for consumption, it is absolutely NOT poisonous. So purchase your plants with the peace of mind knowing that neither small children or animals will be harmed by this lovely holiday decoration. However, some holiday plants such as mistletoe, are poisonous and should be avoided if there are small children or pets around.


Purchasing the Perfect Poinsettia

Choose a plant that is healthy looking and does not show any signs of insects or disease. Check to see if the flowers are still on the plant. The poinsettia flowers are the golden yellow clusters at the center (cyathia), not the brilliant red leaves, commonly called bracts.

When taking your plant home, be sure it is sleeved or covered and protected in some way. Cold temperatures, even for a very short time, will harm this tropical plant. Plants purchased from mass retailers may have been in their sleeves for quite some time and therefore, after opening, the bottom leaves may yellow and drop off. Locally grown plants from a reputable source are always a better bet.
After arriving home, take your plant out of its sleeve. Always remove the poinsettias from the bottom of the wrapping, pulling downward, so as not to break the bracts and branches. Place your plant in a spot that will give it bright natural light, but do not expose it to direct sunlight, especially in a south facing window. Do not put it near a heat source such as a radiator, on top of a television set, near drafts or ventilation ducts.
Let your plant dry slightly between waterings. Plants are like people- neither like wet feet, so don’t let your plant stand in a saucer of water between waterings. When watering, do so until the water runs through the bottom of the pot, then wait to water again until the soil feels dry to the touch, or the plant looks droopy.
Although some people consider a red poinsettia a dandy Valentine flower, most throw theirs out after the holiday season has passed. Poinsettias can be kept, however, and planted outdoors in the summer as an annual, although with our cool nighttime temperatures it probably won’t do very well. Some homeowners try to hold on to theirs to reflower them a second year and although this is considered a “gardening challenge”, it can be done. Be advised, however, that this is a difficult task at best as they are very sensitive to day length and a strict regime must be followed in order for this to happen successfully. Generally you are better off to simply throw the plant away once you are tired of it and purchase a new one the following season.
Enjoy your holiday poinsettias this year. There are so many wonderful ones from which to choose, anyone who wants a brighter, more cheerful holiday home should be able to find the perfect poinsettia!