Poinsettias: Christmas Flower

It's one of the most popular holiday plants in the country.

Nothing announces the arrival of the holidays as well as the vibrant colors of the poinsettia in homes and public spaces across America. Here's how to keep poinsettias healthy and keep the holiday spirit going throughout the long season.

North Pole Spirit South of the Border

Decorating with poinsettias has become a holiday tradition.

In fact, this colorful plant is the most popular flowering plant sold in the country during the Christmas season. A native plant of Mexico, the poinsettia was brought to the United States more than 180 years ago by the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett, the plant's namesake.

Not Just Red Anymore

There are more than 100 varieties of poinsettias available. While red has long been the traditional color associated with the plant, poinsettias today are available in many shades of red as well as in pink, salmon, orange, creamy white and various marbled or speckled colors. The colored portions of the plant are actually modified leaves called bracts, which surround tiny yellowish-green flowers called cyathia. The true leaves are below the bracts and usually dark green although some are variegated.

Selecting the Perfect Poinsettia

Poinsettias are available pretty much everywhere - grocery stores, home improvement stores and garden centers. Look for plants with healthy, bright color and unopened center flowers. Don't buy poinsettias that are displayed on store shelves still wrapped in paper or plastic sleeves because they will deteriorate quickly when you get them home. They also need to be protected from temperatures below 50 degrees - a good thing to keep in mind while you're out Christmas shopping on a cold winter day.

Keeping Your Poinsettias Healthy

With the right attention, poinsettias can keep the holiday spirit alive well into the New Year.

Never expose poinsettias to hot or cold drafts. Keep your poinsettia in a bright, sunny spot where the room temperature is 65-70 degrees. Be sure to keep the soil moist but not soaking wet, and punch holes in the decorative pot cover so water can drain away from the container - do not let your poinsettia sit in water. You can also feed your poinsettia every two weeks with Miracle-Gro® Indoor Plant Food.

Poinsettias Are Not Poisonous

The rumor that poinsettias are poisonous has been around since 1919. University and hospital research has shown that the plants are not toxic to humans or pets. However, the white, milky sap can irritate some people's skin and can cause an upset stomach if a large enough quantity is eaten by a child, dog or cat. Take that into consideration when deciding where to place poinsettias in your home.