December Gift Flower: Poinsettia

Poinsettia plants in a row.

Poinsettia or narcissus are December's gift flower. Where I live, only poinsettia are easily found.

December Gift Flower: Poinsettia

At least in mid-Missouri, the only Narcissus anyone is going to find is either at a florist or forced to grow inside. It's winter, and most daffodils, and narcissus, bloom outside here in spring. So although some gift guides list narcissus as the December gift flower, the alternate is poinsettia, a much easier plant to find in the middle of a midwest winter.

The red colors on these popular Christmas plants for holiday decor are actually leaves that have been deprived of light and turned from green to red. These days you can also get poinsettias in white, pink and marble colors, products of a hybridizer playing with the teeny tiny center flowers.

 Pink leaves tinged with white circle the tiny poinsettia flowers in the center.

Pink leaves tinged with white circle the tiny poinsettia flowers in the center.

Originally from Mexico

The poinsettia is named after Joel Roberts Poinsett, who lived from 1779 to 1851. The son of a French physician, Poinsett was appointed as the first United States Ambassador to Mexico 1825-1829 by President James Madison. Poinsett had attended medical school himself, but his real love was botany.

Poinsett maintained his own hothouses on his Greenville, South Carolina plantations, and while visiting the Taxco area of Mexico in 1828, became enchanted by the brilliant red blooms he saw there. He immediately sent some of the plants back to South Carolina, where he began propagating the plants and sending them to friends and botanical gardens.

Among the recipients of Poinsett's work was John Bartram of Philadelphia, who in turn gave the plant over to another friend, Robert Buist, a Pennsylvania nurseryman. Mr. Buist is thought to be the first person to have sold the plant under its botanical name, Euphorbia pulcherrima. It is thought to have become known by its more popular name of poinsettia around 1836, the origin of the name recognizing the man who first brought the plant to the United States.

 Poinsettias today are available in several colors including white as well as red and pink tones.

Poinsettias today are available in several colors including white as well as red and pink tones.

Take Extra Care When Buying and Taking Home

In Mexico City, where I lived early in life, I remember poinsettia trees in our backyard so they can grow quite large in the right tropical conditions. In other words, when you pick one up at the grocery store to take home, make sure to wrap it up in brown paper...no wait, better yet, take a blanket in with you and wrap the plant in the blanket to prevent it from getting exposed to the elements. I'm quite serious. Too many people have passed on half-dying poinsettias to me just because they were exposed to cold for a few minutes.

With a little care, diffused sunlight, and not too much water, these lovely plants can give you their red, pink and white leaves for many more holidays, and birthdays, to come.

Charlotte