Poinsettia – a symbol of Christmas

Euphorbia Beautiful, better known as Poinsettia or “Christmas Star” – a perennial tropical plant from Mexico. The evergreen shrub belongs to the family Euphorbia, which are poisonous representatives of the flora. If the poinsettia is poisonous, why then do  a lot of people buy this flower before the New Year holidays? Debunking the myths in this article!

Botanical features of poinsettia

(Euphorbia pulcherrima), family — Euphorbiaceae

Wild Euphorbia beautiful
Euphorbia beautiful in the wild.

In its natural habitat, Poinsettia grows to a height of three meters. Poinsettia hybrids grow to 30 cm, and there are all sorts of colors – ranging from milky white, and ending with spotty-purple. The leaves are dark green, toothed-elliptical, petiolate, about 10-15 cm long. The flowers are small, yellow, in rosette inflorescences. During ripening, the leaves around the buds turn bright red (or a different color depending on the type), so the poinsettia visually looks like a star. Flowering lasts from December to February. Due to the similarity with the star and bloom before Christmas, the poinsettia has other names – “Bethlehem Star” or “Christmas Star”.

Chemical composition of poinsettia

Euphorbia Beautiful contains a huge amount of milky juice, rubber and tar. Also:

  • Evorbin – 22%;
  • Amphore gum – 38%;
  • Gum – 18%;
  • Mineral salts – 10%;
  • Alkaloids, flavonoids, coumarins, saponins, sulfur, amylodextrin, formic acid;
  • Essential oil;
  • Wine and gallic acid;
  • Glucose, sucrose, starch;

Pharmacological properties have not been identified.

How to choose poinsettia in a store

White Poinsettia Potted
Poinsettia hybrids are becoming increasingly popular.

Euphorbia Beautiful – thermophilic plant. “Christmas Star” usually appears in stores before the New Year’s holiday; so buying a flower should be taken seriously, otherwise there is a chance to buy a frozen plant (applies to countries with a temperate and cold climate).

Pay attention to the ground: wet soil is a bad sign. It is possible that the plant has been watered too often, and gray rot has already formed on the roots. Also, if the plant is on the street – the poinsettia is guaranteed to get hypothermia, and the likelihood to rehabilitate the flower tends to be 0. The buds must be closed or slightly opened, because the poinsettia is just beginning its life cycle. Warm the pot during transportation – so that the roots will not freeze. Further, this helps the adaptation period to begin.

Life cycle of poinsettia. How to care for a plant


In stores blooming poinsettia appears on Christmas holidays. At home, put the plant in a place with good lighting. The next three weeks, the plant is acclimating, so you need to watch it very carefully.

If you see that poinsettia is drooping, we advise you to transplant the plant in another pot. But do it only in an emergency. First make sure that you comply with all conditions: the air temperature is not lower than 60 °F; good daylight lasting 14 – 16 hours (natural and artificial lighting can be alternated); moderate watering – the soil remains slightly wet; the air is humid.

If you apply all of these conditions, your poinsettia will quickly come back to normal. If during the week you notice increased plant lethargy, increase in leaves dropping, we recommending to transplant the flower. Choose a pot of the same size as the current one, or two centimeters larger. The soil is a peat mix, some sand and leaf humus, and vermiculite (proportions 3: 1: 1: 0.5). Ensure drainage at the bottom of the pot, excess water should flow freely into the pan.

White and red poinsettia
Poinsettia is a delicate plant, so acclimatization can be difficult.

Flowering period:

Flowering begins in December. Place a flower on a southern window-sill, or a well-lit place without drafts. In northern latitudes, daylight hours are shorter, so additional lighting is needed. A total of about 14-16 hours. If you do not adhere to this condition – the leaves of your poinsettia will begin to fall off.

The air temperature in the room can vary between 64 – 77 °F, but not lower than 60 °F, otherwise the plant will freeze. Euphorbia can not withstand sudden changes in temperature. For watering you need to use soft, infused water (it can be slightly warm). For tips on how to soften hard tap water please read our article “Why room plants die. Common mistakes in the care of flowers and emergency assistance”. Watering should be moderate, do not over-wet the soil. Good drainage copes with this task. Humidity also plays an important role. Around the pot you can put wet drainage, or a bottle of water, so as not to spray the plant constantly. You can also feed the flower with potash fertilizers every two weeks – but, this condition is not necessary if the plant feels great. Euphorbia Beautiful will delight with its bright buds until the end of February.

Pink poinsettia
Observing all the rules of care for poinsettia, the plant will delight with bright color all season!

Rest period:

With the start of spring, poinsettia is immersed in a natural state for itself – a period of rest. The leaves begin to fall off, and its time to cut the flower. Twice a month, the soil is fertilized with a universal complex of minerals. The optimum air temperature – can drop to 57 °F, but remember that the poinsettia likes continuously warm weather, so if you can keep it warm, please provide this condition. Abundant watering is no longer needed, but do not let the tropical flower dry out – water it with slightly warm water.

In March, conduct preventive pruning. Full lighting is an important component of the rest period. In April – May, when the first leaves appear, and new shoots will grow, the plant is transplanted into a larger pot. Choose a slightly acidic substrate – PH – 6. The composition of the soil should contain clay-sod, leaf mixture with sand (proportions 3: 1: 1). Take care of quality drainage. The air temperature should be constant – during this period usually around 68 °F.

Among the grown shoots, select 2 – 4 of the strongest; the remaining stems need to be cut.

Poinsettia pruning
When pruning, leave the stem 10 cm above the ground.

Period of active growth:

With the beginning of summer, arrange a summer bath for poinsettia. Take out the flower in the yard or on the balcony. If this is not possible, arrange a place for her near the open window on the sunny side of the apartment. Remember! Strong drafts can damage the plant even in the summer. Continue to fertilize the flower with a complex of minerals every two weeks. Increase watering due to the average daily increase in air temperature. But constant water-logging contributes to the formation of gray mold on the roots, which adversely affect the flower. To avoid spider mites – do not forget to constantly spray objects around the pot – thus, increasing the humidity of the air, and spider mites do not tolerate moisture, and also prevent the appearance of brown spots on the leaves.

Maturation period:

The maturation period begins in September. By the middle of October, the euphorbia needs shortened the daylight hours so that in November intense lighting lasts no more than 10 hours. The remaining 14 hours of the poinsettia should be in complete darkness. This effect can be achieved with the help of a very dense black fabric, or by moving it to a room without windows and with an appropriate temperature regime. Even dim light can interfere with the ripening of buds and bracts, but vegetative growth is activated. Therefore, cover the poinsettia with a thick black fabric every night, until the beginning of the flowering period.

Poinsettia maturation
Short daylight plays a large role in the maturation of the buds and bracts.

Observing these simple conditions, poinsettia will live a long time, and please you with bright blooms every year!

Reproduction of poinsettia stems

In the wild environment, the height of the poinsettia reaches three meters, and the shrub propagates mainly by seeds. Artificially bred varieties do not have such an opportunity, because they are produced by breeding. Even if by some miracle the seeds germinate, they will not have the same properties as the parent flower.

Poinsettia stems
It has been tested in practice: rooting of cuttings is more successful in the soil, and not in the water.

 Reproduction of poinsettia occurs in spring and summer by rooting little stems. Strong stems are left to grow further, the rest are cut. Cuttings suitable for rooting have 4 – 7 internodes. Remnants of last year’s leaves are removed. Milky juice is found in all parts of the plant, so the stems need to be dipped in warm water for a couple of hours, and then planted in loose soil consisting of peat and sand. Before planting, lower each cutting into the solution of indolylbutyric acid (concentration 5g / kg of water). Indolylbutyric acid acts as an irritant and stimulator of root formation. But you can do without this manipulation. Bury stem 1 cm into the ground. The pot with cuttings must be constantly sprayed and ventilated. Rooting lasts about a month. Next, cut a small stalk so that the poinsettia in the future can branch. Keep temperature condition within 77 – 84 °F. Further care depends on the life cycle: summer is a period of active growth, autumn is a period of ripening, winter is a period of flowering, spring is a period of rest.

Common diseases and insect pests

Poinsettia’s most terrible enemies are thrips, spider mites, and mealybugs. To get rid of these small pests, an ordinary soap solution will help. Wipe the leaves with soapy water, and then arrange a warm flower shower. This will wash the soap solution off the leaves. Before manipulation, cover the soil with a dense, waterproof material. If gray rot has appeared on the plant, cut off the damaged areas and disinfect with antifungal medication.

Euphorbia beautiful pink
Humidity will protect the poinsettia from insect pests, such as spider mites.
Myths about poinsettia
  • Poinsettia is a poisonous plant

The flower belongs to the euphorbia family, and for some reason it is considered that poinsettia contains poisonous juice. In fact, poinsettia juice is absolutely harmless, and numerous studies confirm this. We do not know how the study was conducted, but the results show that a 10-pound child should eat at least 500 flowers for serious signs of poisoning to appear. The conclusion is that your family and pets are completely safe.

  • Poinsettia – an annual plant

Usually, many people buy a flower for one season and then throw out it into the trash bin, thinking that the plant has died. In fact, with the advent of spring, the poinsettia enters in period of rest. In the wild, euphorbia beautiful – perennial shrub. Replicate the life cycle of this plant, and your green pet will live for many years with bright blooms every Christmas.

  • Poinsettia has only bright red bracts

It is a myth. Despite the fact that most traditionally buy the red “Christmas Star”; artificially bred varieties that have white, cream, yellow, pink and even purple bracts are gaining more and more popularity on the world market.

  • The name “Poinsettia” is derived from the English word “poison”, meaning – poisonous

The plant is named after the American politician Joel Roberts Poinsett, who arrived in Mexico on a diplomatic visit in the early seventeenth century. Poinsett liked the flower so much, he brought several to his home in South Carolina. There, for several years, Poinsett was breeding the euphorbia in his greenhouse.

Poinsettia different colors
Bracts can be of different colors, thanks to modern breeding technology.
Interesting facts about poinsettia
  • The association with Christmas is not accidental. In Mexico, there is a legend about poinsettia. In one Mexican settlement, there lived a girl who wanted to take a sacrifice to the church before Christmas. Alas, her family had no money, so she decided to collect a large bouquet of flowers. However, she found only bushes with green leaves and inconspicuous flowers. Entering the church with a bouquet, other parishioners began to laugh at the girl, but as soon as she put the bouquet on the altar, everyone present fell silent – the top leaves changed from green to bright red. Since then, poinsettia is considered a symbol of Christmas, and in Mexico is called the “flower of the holy night“.
  • The Aztecs added milky juice of poinsettia to their potions. It was believed that in this way they strengthened the connection with the ancestors, and saw events of the future.
Poinsettia on a christmas
Poinsettia is a traditional symbol of Christmas from time immemorial.

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