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Poinsettia"Are Poinsettias poisonous?"

This is one of the most-asked questions about these largely misunderstood plants. Research has shown that poinsettias are not poisonous. In fact, the Aztecs used the sap to treat fevers and the bracts for die. It seems that back in 1919 an Army officer's two-year old son was claimed to have died after eating a poinsettia leaf. Later determined as hearsay, the rumour has continued to spread and is still believed by many.

The plant has been researched and thoroughly tested. There is no evidence to suggest the plant is deadly and has not been found to have any adverse effect when eaten, except for the occasional case of vomiting. We're certainly not suggesting you try a Poinsettia Salad, but don't feel the need to surround the plant with electrified fencing to keep the kids away.

"How do you make Poinsettias bloom?"

A common misconception is that the red leaves are the poinsettia's flower. They're not, but rather bracts that surround the flower. The bloom itself is a particularly unspectacular circle of tiny white dots around the base of the bracts. If they have bloomed - that is, they are open - then they are toward the end of their cycle.

To make the bracts turn red you need to be controlling the plant's light from early October. Give the plant 12-14 hours of complete darkness each day, e.g. from 5pm until 8am. Night temperatures should be slightly cooler than during the day, but no lower than 55f.

"Is Poinsettia the real name?"

No, the real name is Euphorbia Pulcherrima, which means "very beautiful". The name was given by a German botanist, Wilenow, because he was dazzled by its colour when he found it growing in a crack in his greenhouse. (Yes, at one time these remarkable plants were weeds!)

Caring for Poinsettias

The first and possibly most important care you give your new plant should start before you leave the shop. Make sure your plant is paper-wrapped and that your car is warm. If your plant is exposed to low temperatures for even a short time, you'll have a sorry sight waiting for you the following morning.

Unwrap your poinsettia carefully and place it somewhere with lots of light. Don't put it too close to a window because in Edmonton it gets very cold there! Also, be careful not to put it somewhere with a draft, whether it's warm or cool. (So avoid putting it near air vents or the entrance.)

Keep the room in the region of 18c to 20F in the day, and around 15c at night. High temperatures will shorten the life of the poinsettia. Keep the room fairly humid. You don't need water dripping from the ceiling, but if you wake up with a dry throat then you might want to look at ways to humidify your home.

Check the soil every day. Water when the soil is dry, but don't over water. Make sure there are holes in the pot, and a saucer for excess waer to drain into. Always keep the saucer empty!

If you do decide to keep the poinsettias past Christmas, fertilise with houseplant food and ask us how to care for your Pointsettia in October, in the lead up to next Christmas.

Choosing your Poinsettias

When selecting your plant, consider these points:

  • It's 'green' foliage should be green.
  • The leaves should not be wilted - avoid plants that are drooping or wilted.
  • Don't buy plants displayed in paper sleaves, they tend to deteriorate quickly (source: University of Illinois). However, make sure you take it home in a paper sleave to protect the plant from the cold.
  • Make sure your car is warm when you take the plant away - it is a tropical plant and will die if it's subjected to cold air for even a minute.
  • Check the soil. If it's wet and the plant is wilted, it could be an indication of root rot.
  • The plant should be well-balanced and attractive from all sides.

Above all, enjoy selecting your plant and don't be afraid to try a new variety!

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