PUBLISHED: 3:20 PM on Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Poinsettia, treat him nice, he'll keep his blush

  Courtesy photo
Like bringing a baby home from the hospital, bringing poinsettias into your home for the holidays requires care if you want to benefit from their brilliant Christmas colors.

With care, poinsettias should retain their beauty for weeks, and some varieties will stay attractive for months, said the Society of American Florists.

"You definitely cannot put a poinsettia outside this time of year," said Lynn Wilson, greenhouse manager at the Gardens at Pete's in Amarillo. "They're a tropical plant."

Care begins before you leave the store. When you take the poinsettia home, be sure it is sleeved or covered when outdoor temperatures are below 50 degrees. Exposure to low temperatures - even for a few minutes - can damage the bracts and leaves.

Once home, place the poinsettia in a sunny window, but be sure to keep the plant from touching cold windows.

By the numbers

• 90 percent of all poinsettias are exported from the United States.
• 80 percent of poinsettias are bought by women.
• 80 percent of people who purchase poinsettias are 40 or older.
• 74 percent of Americans still prefer red poinsettias; 8 percent prefer white and 6 percent pink.
• $220 million worth of poinsettias are sold during the holiday season.
• 100 or more varieties of poinsettias are available.

Source: University of Illinois Extension Service

"A dining room table by a window is good," Wilson said. "Bright light and keeping them damp and warm is best for poinsettias."

Ideally, poinsettias require daytime temperatures of 60 to 70 degrees and nighttime temperatures around 55 degrees, she said.

"Any lower than that and you start to droop," Wilson said. Lack of water also will cause poinsettias to droop. "Don't let them droop."

Poinsettias, native to Mexico and the most popular potted plant in the United States, according to the SAF, need to be watered with tepid, not cold water.

"(Cold water) will shock his roots," Wilson said. "He doesn't like cold, wet feet."

She said she uses the "airplane test" to judge a poinsettia's water needs.

"If it's too light, like it's going to take off, he needs a drink," she said. "If it's heavy, he's fine."

A better way to judge, if you don't want to pick up the plant, is to feel the soil.

"If the top of the soil is dry, he needs a drink," Wilson said.

Red poinsettias are still the favorite, with white and pink coming in a distant second and third.

During the 14th-16th centuries, the sap of the poinsettia was used to control fevers.

William Prescott, a historian and horticulturist, was asked to give Euphorbia pulcherrima a new name as it became more popular. At that time Prescott had just published a book, "The Conquest of Mexico," in which he detailed the 1825 introduction of plant in the U.S. by Joel Poinsett, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico.

So, Prescott named the plant the poinsettia in honor of Poinsett's discovery.

In the early 1900s, the Ecke family of southern California grew poinsettias outdoors for use as landscape plants and as a cut flower. Eventually the family grew poinsettias in greenhouses and today are recognized as the leading producer of poinsettias in the United States.

In nature, poinsettias are a perennial flowering shrub that can grow to 10 feet tall.

Poinsettias are not poisonous.

California is the top poinsettia-producing state.

Poinsettias are commercially grown in all 50 states and represent more than 85 percent of the potted plant sales during the holiday season.

Poinsettias are the most popular Christmas plant even though most are sold in only a six-week period.

Dec. 12 is National Poinsettia Day.

The cost of a poinsettia is determined by the number of blooms on the plant.