Cultivating the Poinsettia

Cultivating the Poinsettia

Christmas Star

Typical flower to give during the Christmas period, the poinsettia has such lively inflorescences that make the whole house happy; it is in fact an evergreen shrub, which in nature reaches 3-4 meters in height; the flowers are small, gathered in bunches, subtended by huge colored bracts; the use of the poinsettia as a houseplant has been widespread for several decades, in this period of time flower producers have been able to produce various hybrids, with very large or curled leaves, with double inflorescences and straddles of bracts , with bracts of various colors, from creamy white to bright purple.

The shrub grown in pots remains fairly small in size, and tends not to exceed two meters in height; during the Christmas period in the nursery there are mainly rooted cuttings, which do not exceed 25-55 cm in height at the time of purchase, and have quite slow growth if grown in containers.

Poinsettias are plants belonging to the genus euphorbia, they are varieties of the species Euphorbia pulcherrima, also called Poinsettia; they originally come from Mexico and Central America, now they are also naturalized in some areas of Australia and the Mediterranean area.

The shrub is well branched, although it often tends to empty of vegetation in the lower part and to produce a more compact crown in the upper part; the branches are fleshy, only in the older specimens do they become woody; the foliage is large, dark green. The inflorescences are naturally produced by the plant in autumn, when the days are short, with few hours of light.


Cultivating the Poinsettia

The poinsezie love bright and well ventilated positions, with minimum temperatures above 10-12 degrees, but with not high maximums, it is therefore advisable to grow these plants at home, in a little heated room, and absolutely away from direct heat sources. These plants love a cool and fairly humid climate, so it is advisable to vaporize them often, especially in summer and in periods when the heating or air conditioning system is active. They love bright positions, but to color the bracts that characterize them, it is essential that they receive a few hours of light a day; so we avoid placing our poinsettia in a room with strong lighting, even occasional lighting due to electric light can delay flowering, and our plant will keep all the leaves green.

This does not mean that these plants should be placed in a shady place, in fact during the natural hours of sunlight it is good to place them in a bright area of ​​the house.

There are those who obviate this inconvenience by covering the plant with a dark paper bag at sunset, to discover it in the morning, during the autumn months.

Poinsettias need regular watering, but it is good to wait for the soil to dry between one watering and the next; avoiding leaving the substrate completely soaked with water.

The fertilizations will be regular, every 15 days, throughout the year, using a fertilizer for flowering plants.

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Plants and the photoperiod

Throughout the year, as we all know, the days have different lengths, in July the sun stays high for more than 10 hours a day, while in October we have sunshine of less than 8 hours a day. Plants live thanks to chlorophyll photosynthesis, which occurs thanks to sunlight; for this reason the plants are able to measure the amount of insolation every day, modifying their development according to the season in which we are.

For this reason when we grow a shrub indoors, even if the climate is hot and dry, as if we were in May or June, our plant is aware that we are in a different season than spring, despite the climate in casa seems to declare otherwise.

So plants grown in the heat at home can go into dormancy, despite the climate seeming favorable to development.

This characteristic of plants is essential for them to develop at their best; for example, many plants, such as spinach, as soon as the days get longer, are preparing to produce flowers, because spinach plants would not survive a hot and dry climate, typical of summer.

The poinsettia, on the other hand, blooms in winter, when the days are short, just before spring; so even if we grow it indoors, in the heat, to better imitate the external climate, we will also have to deprive it of light, even artificial light, so that it can produce the typical colored bracts.


Christmas legends

But why in Italy do we use a Mexican plant as a Christmas gift?

As with many other plants, even at Christmas we use what nature makes available to us, therefore evergreen shrubs of the wood, and conifers, with their green and fragrant needles; in addition to this, in an increasingly globalized world, we also have the plants that bloom in the rest of the world in this period.

Euphorbia pulcherrima was introduced into cultivation towards the end of the 19th century, due to its beautiful bracts; the use of this plant spread slowly, only in the 1980s did it spread to Europe, when it became easier and less expensive to cultivate this species. The ease of taking root of the poinsettia cuttings and their red bracts, reminiscent of the colors of Christmas, quickly made it a very popular plant during the Christmas period, like holly and holly.

Obviously there are also legends about it, which come directly from Mexico; it seems that once a small child went to the Christmas mass, eager to bring a gift to the child Jesus; unfortunately the child was poor and could not afford any gift, so he took a bundle of twigs of a wood plant; arrived at the church, these twigs were filled with the enormous pink inflorescences typical of the poinsettia, as if by a miracle, from that day the poinsettias continued to bloom in the middle of winter, symbolizing that a pure soul is rewarded, and that sometimes for making a gift is enough to think.

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