The poinsettia revolution was a long time coming. But worth waiting for.
It’s been nearly 200 years since Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first U.S. diplomat to Mexico, shipped Euphorbia pulcherrima back to South Carolina to propagate. From then, it was only a matter of time before bright red poinsettias became a Christmas cliché.
Luckily nowadays poinsettia breeders have come up with so many new varieties and colors—pink, apricot, white, cream, gold—that the poinsettia feels new again. This holiday season we’re liberating our potted poinsettias and turning them into cut flowers:
Photography by Michelle Slatalla.
For years the Ecke family of Encinatas, California had the market cornered on poinsettias—and deserves the credit for developing pink and white varieties decades ago. In recent years, varieties such as ‘Autumn Leaves’ (yellow) and ‘Envy’ (chartreuse) and ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ with splatter-pattern red and white bracts have broadened the offerings.
The colorful parts of poinsettia plants are not petals but rather are bracts that radiate outward. Poinsettia flowers are the unobtrusive cluster in the center.
Poinsettias like conditions that mimic their native Mexico—give a poinsettia sunlight and keep it in a warm room—and can be persuaded to re-bloom next year. Come spring, cut back the plant’s stems, and fertilize it. Keep the soil moist.
After their introduction in the U.S. red poinsettias quickly became associated with Christmastime. By the turn of the 20th century, poinsettias were being displayed in masses at Mrs. Astor’s annual society ball and in the White House, where in 1908 President Theodore Roosevelt had them on view in the East Room during state receptions.
For more of our favorite ways to arrange holiday flowers, see:
- Poinsettias: A Field Guide to Planting, Care & Design
- DIY Poinsettia: A Common Christmas Plant Goes Luxe
- A White Christmas, with Potted Cyclamen
- DIY: A Wild and Foraged Christmas Bouquet
N.B.: This post is an update; it was first published December 2019.