Poinsettias come in a wide range of colors

December 16, 2020

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and along with it, some Christmas myths that are just plain wrong. Shortening “Christmas” to “Xmas” is not x-ing out Christ but actually just abbreviating the word. In ancient Greek and Roman, the first letter of the word “Christ” translates to “X,” and the word “Xmas” goes all the way back to the 12th century Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

Another popular myth is that cut real Christmas trees are apt to burst into flames from strings of hot lights and dried-out needles. The National Fire Protection Association shows that Christmas trees caught fire only about 230 times each year, which, given the millions of green Christmas trees put up each year, makes these fires extremely rare. And most of those fires are after Christmas, telling us the danger is with old trees. The best fire prevention is to get rid of your tree as soon after the holidays as possible.

For plant lovers, one of the biggest myths is that poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) plants are highly poisonous, when in fact they are just mildly toxic to pets. The real danger to pets is the lovely lilies, which can send your pet to the vet after only one or two bites. Even lily pollen is thought to be poisonous. Other Christmas plants that truly are poisonous to pets include mistletoe, holly berries, and even some herbs, such as rosemary.

So, fear not the poinsettia. Indeed, these colorful plants are not only safe, but come in a wide range of colors, including traditional red, along with white, pink and splash. These colors are actually just the outer leaves, called bracts, that change color and mimic flowers. The true flower of poinsettia is the tiny yellow blossoms hidden among the colorful bracts.

Poinsettias do best in a cool, humid place that gets bright, indirect sunlight. Keep the plants well watered, but not soggy. Always let the soil drain completely and do not let the plants sit on top of water-filled saucers, as this can cause root rot. You can increase the relative humidity by gently misting the leaves with water from a spray bottle. Also, if you group poinsettias together with other houseplants, they will create a slightly more humid microclimate.

If your poinsettia plant starts dropping leaves, that often means it is in a spot that is too warm or too dry. Also, drafts can put stress on poinsettias and cause them to drop leaves.

After the holidays, you don't have to toss out your poinsettias. With a little care, you can keep them for several years. Start by cutting back on watering them. This will let the plant slowly dry out. You don't want it to get too dry, but use just enough water to keep it alive. Move your poinsettia to a cool, dark part of the house until spring. Cut the stems back to just six inches tall. You can use a good liquid fertilizer applied at half strength every few weeks.

Many gardeners move their poinsettias outdoors once the weather has warmed up and all danger of frost has passed. Choose a bright but protected area such as a patio. You can sink the pots directly into the garden where they will need less water, because the pot is not exposed to air but protected by the surrounding soil.

So, fear not the poinsettia, which is not as dangerous as we have been told. What is dangerous is falling while putting up decorations, with 5,800 emergency room visits a year. It may be time to check exactly how much rum is in that eggnog.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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