Poinsettias perfectly pretty — and safe — for holiday decoration
Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 21, 2008
Since I mentioned poinsettias last week, I figured I would go into more detail about the history and myth associated with the plant. Also, I will include some tips on what to do after the holidays. Perhaps you can use this to awe or inspire your holiday guests as you gather for Christmas parties this week.
Native to Mexico, poinsettias originated in a region near the present-day city of Taxco. Joel Robert Poinsett, a Southern plantation owner and botanist was appointed the first United States Ambassador to Mexico and served from 1825 to 1829. While visiting Taxco, he was struck by the beauty of the brilliant red plants he found blooming in the region during December. He had some of the plants sent to his plantation in Greenville, S.C., where they flourished in his greenhouse. While the botanical name, Euphorbia pulcherrima, was given by a German taxonomist in 1833, the common name, poinsettia, became and has remained the accepted name in English-speaking countries. With over 70 million plants sold nationwide each year, the poinsettia is now the No. 1 flowering potted plant sold in the United States.
Now, for the myth. The widespread belief that poinsettias are poisonous is a misconception. Their safety is demonstrated in scientific studies conducted by Ohio State University in cooperation with the Society of American Florists. The study concluded that no toxicity was evident at experimental ingestion levels far exceeding those likely to occur in a home environment. Of course, I have no idea how the researchers came up with the amount “likely to occur in a home environment” to begin with.
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Nonetheless, the Poisindex Information Service, the primary resource used by most poison control centers, states that a 50-pound child would have to ingest over 500 poinsettia bracts (the colorful parts of the poinsettia) to surpass experimental doses. Yet even at this high level, no toxicity was demonstrated.
If you can keep your poinsettias looking good beyond the holidays, you may wish to plant them outdoors. Since poinsettias are sensitive to cold weather, frost and rain, outside placement during the winter should be avoided. However, in mild climates, an enclosed patio may be suitable, provided the nighttime temperatures do not drop below 55 degrees. Make certain the delicate bracts are protected from wind and cold rain.
Place your plants outdoors where they can bask in the warmth of spring and summer after outside night temperatures average 55 degrees or above. In early April, cut the plant back to about 8 inches. Water regularly and fertilize every few weeks. Starting Oct. 1 and continuing for 8-10 weeks, the plants must be kept in complete darkness for 14 hours each night in order to bloom properly. One way to accomplish this is to cover them with a large box overnight. The plants will come into full bloom in November or December, depending on the cultivar.
After the holidays
To keep enjoying your poinsettias after Christmas and New Year’s, place them outdoors — but not during the winter. Some tips:
* In mild climates, an enclosed patio is suitable for placement — if night temperatures don’t drop below 55. Protect the bracts from wind and cold rain.
* After outside night temperatures average 55 or above, place the plant outdoors where it can bask in the warmth of the spring and summer sun.
* In early April, cut the plant to about 8 inches. Water regularly and fertilize every few weeks.
* Starting Oct. 1 and continuing for eight to 10 weeks, the plants must be kept in complete darkness for 14 hours each night in order to bloom properly. To do this, cover them with a large box overnight. The plants will bloom in November or December.
John C. Coccaro is county Extension director. Write to him at 1100-C Grove St., Vicksburg, MS 39180 or call 601-636-5442. E-mail him at email@example.com