Poinsettias are the most popular plant this time of year. They are beautiful and add a touch of holiday cheer, but how did they become the quintessential Christmas plant? Here are a few fun facts about poinsettias and how to care for them.

Tonkadale Greenhouse poinsettias October 2015

Starting to turn colors: Tonkadale poinsettias in October 2015

Poinsettias take a long time to grow and color. The talented growers at Tonkadale have been hard at work (since July!) caring for poinsettias to get them ready for Christmas. Poinsettias don’t turn beautiful colors easily. They require weeks of misting (rather than just regular watering), and they need their beauty sleep! 14 hours of darkness each day for several weeks is required, which means turning off every light in the greenhouse at the end of the day and shooing employees out the door at closing time in order to provide plants with the necessary amount of darkness. Since poinsettias are a short day plant, it makes them the perfect plant to grow as the days get shorter (such as leading up to Christmas).

Did you know? The poinsettia actually comes from Mexico. There, it can grow to be a 10-15 foot shrub. Joel Robert Poinsett, a botanist and U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, sent poinsettia cuttings to his greenhouse in South Carolina in 1825. He distributed the plants to several friends, and the poinsettia eventually made its way to a nurseryman who gave it the name Euphorbia poinsettia. Dec. 12 is National Poinsettia Day and commemorates the death of Joel Robert Poinsett in 1851.

Tonkadale Greenhouse poinsettia blooms

Poinsettia flowers

Poinsettias are prized for their incredible colors. Those stunning colors that make the poinsettia so popular are not actually flowers, though. Instead, they are “bracts,” which are modified leaves. The actual flowers of the poinsettia are very tiny and can be seen in the center of a cluster of bracts.

Poinsettias have a long “bloom” time, but are difficult to bring to color again. This light-loving plant does well near a sunny window or in bright, indirect light and prefers temperatures between 65 and 70 degrees. Poinsettias are very sensitive to the cold, so they should never be allowed to touch a window since this could cause injury. If the window is drafty, it’s best to place the plant farther away. Poinsettias have average water needs. Keep soil evenly moist but do not allow the plant to sit in water.

So – are they really poisonous? Actually, no. A child or pet would have to eat an impossibly large amount to cause serious harm. Pets should still not be allowed to snack on the plant, however, as the milky sap can cause stomach upset. People with latex allergies also may find the sap irritating, so it’s best to avoid it.

Tonkadale carries a large selection of poinsettias in many colors and sizes. Whether you prefer traditional red, or pink, cream or a combination of colors, there is the perfect poinsettia for your holiday table or to cheer up your office space. Choose from tiny 2-inch poinsettias for fairy gardens to large 10 inch poinsettias for big impact. Happy holiday decorating!