Tag Archives: poinsettias

Poinsettia Day

Poinsettia Day    —by Jinny Batterson

December 12 has been proclaimed “Poinsettia Day” in the United States. The designation honors a plant brought to the U.S. by  Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Ambassador to Mexico (1825-1829). Poinsett’s love of botany persisted while he trained as a physician. His career mostly went a different direction. While serving in Mexico, Poinsett continued to maintain hothouses on his Greenville, South Carolina plantations. In about 1828, he sent some poinsettias back from Mexico to be propagated. He later gave cuttings to John Bartram of Philadelphia, who introduced the plant to other nurserymen. Over time, the poinsettia in many variations has become a top selling Christmas plant,  with about 33 million poinsettias sold each year. 

Our 2019 experiments with “forcing” the two poinsettias given us by a neighbor after last year’s holidays were not entirely successful. Although the plants survived two successive transplantings—from pot to ground once frost was finished in spring, from ground back to pot before autumn’s first frost—they didn’t produce the same beautiful red bracts as store-bought plants.  I’m not sorry we tried. Even though our “home growns” were spindly and mostly stayed green, we learned from our efforts. Any plants we carry over until next year will be treated with an enhanced regimen, though likely not quite as standardized as hothouse plants. This year, as a side benefit, the exercise of taking the plants from basement to light and back twice a day has helped keep off some of this year’s holiday flab. 

Below are pictures of the two types of poinsettias gracing our hearth this holiday season. May light and life grace your home as well!  

full store-bought poinsettias, leggy home-grown from last year

Forcing Poinsettias

Forcing Poinsettias  —by Jinny Batterson

About ten months ago, a neighbor bequeathed to me three post-season poinsettias, two red and one pink. She said she was not good with plants. She thought I might be able to nurse them through the rest of the cold weather while enjoying their still-vibrant colors. Our condo has a set of sunny front windows; they became the plants’ late winter home.  Once spring’s last frost had passed, all three plants went into the ground out front. The two previously red ones thrived, the pink one fell prey to a combination of poor soil and digging by our ever-busy squirrels. 

As summer progressed, the plants’ remaining red leaves fell off. By August, we had two shrub-sized green plants preening happily among the other annuals and perennials. Though September’s temperatures stayed hot, it seemed a good idea as the days shortened toward autumn to transfer the poinsettias into indoor pots before cold weather and even shorter days.  I trimmed back the most luxuriant growth, put some slow-release fertilizer into the pots along with the semi-shorn poinsettias, and crossed my fingers that the plants would survive yet another change of home. I’d created tall and narrow specimens, rather than the short and wide versions seen in holiday-prepped store poinsettias, but our plants did not die. 

OK, I thought, how about the next step? Can I get them to repeat the brilliant reds of the previous year?  According to an internet subpage for Lowe’s home improvement (https://www.lowes.com › buying-guide › selecting-caring-poinsettia), for Christmas-blooming poinsettias, you need to start in early October and continue for at least 40 days, providing between 13 and 16 hours of complete darkness each 24 hours, alternating with remaining hours in light.  

Our regimen of under-lawn-bags-in-the-basement darkness did not start until mid-October, and at first nothing happened. The only change seemed to be the added daily chore of bringing the plants up into the light after breakfast, and shrouding them back in basement darkness after supper. One or two days we forgot. Would this invalidate the overall effort? I wondered.  

In early November, the first hints of redness began to appear in some tiny shoots at the tops of the plants. Now, as Thanksgiving approaches, we have a few small red leaves, a few others where the summer’s green seems to be fading, revealing redness underneath, a little like deciduous trees aflame in the fall. I doubt the eventual effect will be as striking as that of a greenhouse-forced glory from a local garden store.

poinsettia in mid-change

semi-forced poinsettia, November 20

Still, the experiment has been worth the effort for me. Whatever its other outcomes, it has reinforced my knowledge that many living things, including humans, respond to changes in intervals of light and dark. Somewhat less sunny moods during the months of short days can be natural; to partially counter the winter blahs, it’s important to get outdoors into natural light, even in cold weather. Best of all, I’ve relearned that beauty comes in all sizes and shapes—tall and narrow and short and wide. Perhaps the poinsettias are forcing me.