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Poinsettias: Rethinking a Christmas Cliché

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Poinsettias: Rethinking a Christmas Cliché

December 19, 2017

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.

Poinsettias in a wide variety of colors and with patterned bracts are widely available during the holiday season. (I found these at shops near my Mill Valley, California home. The plants pictured above came from Nancy Ann Flowers in Sausalito, Berkeley Horticultural Nursery, and a local Whole Foods.)
Above: Poinsettias in a wide variety of colors and with patterned bracts are widely available during the holiday season. (I found these at shops near my Mill Valley, California home. The plants pictured above came from Nancy Ann Flowers in Sausalito, Berkeley Horticultural Nursery, and a local Whole Foods.)

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.

Poinsettia ‘Christmas Beauty Marble’ has dusty pink bracts outlined in cream.
Above: Poinsettia ‘Christmas Beauty Marble’ has dusty pink bracts outlined in cream.

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, traditionally sold as seasonal potted plants, can be kept alive after the holidays if you care for them properly.
Above: Poinsettias, traditionally sold as seasonal potted plants, can be kept alive after the holidays if you care for them properly.

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.

Poinsettia ‘Premium Picasso’ looks has a watercolor effect, with  pink and cream running together.
Above: Poinsettia ‘Premium Picasso’ looks has a watercolor effect, with  pink and cream running together.

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.

Poinsettias look lovely if you display single stems in clear glass vases, bottles, and jars of different sizes and heights.
Above: Poinsettias look lovely if you display single stems in clear glass vases, bottles, and jars of different sizes and heights.
Poinsettias, mix and match.
Above: Poinsettias, mix and match.

For more of our favorite ways to arrange holiday flowers, see:

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