Christmas tradition with Poinsettias

Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) belongs the family Euphorbiaceae which consist of rubber plants and Euphorbia. This family also known as the Spurge family, is well known for exudating white milky and sticky saps. The “flower” that we see as bright red is part of the inflorescence. The bright red organs are known as bracts (modified leaves which always accompany the inflorescence) and the true flowers which are surrounded by the bracts are without sepals and petals. Due to their unattractiveness, these plants have evolved to have the leaves surrounding the inflorescences which turned red to attract pollinators. The green bracts will turn red during winter when the photoperiod change to short day light. The red pigment (anthocyanin) is more effective for photosynthesis at low light level.

Poinsettia originates from Latin America focussing on the regions of Mexico. How is it linked to Christmas? According to Mexican folklore, a young girl was sad that she did not have any gift for baby Jesus in the chapel. With encouragement from her cousin, she went collecting Poinsettia, which were weeds at the time, and made a bouquet to present as a gift. The legend goes, when she brought it to the chapel the bract was still green and after she had said her prayers, the bract turned red and from then forward, the folks deem it as a miracle. Due to the shape and arrangement of the bracts, that resemble the Star of Bethlehem, it was then known as ‘flowers of the holy night’.

The plants became widely known as Poinsettia because it was introduced in America by Joel Roberts Poinsettia. The flowering time is between December and January and it is categorised as an indoor plant. They need bright filtered lights, away from strong sun and draughts, with a minimum temperature of 13-15°C.  Flowering and bract colouring are triggered by the short winter day, therefore from November onwards plants should be in a dark room and protected from artificial lights. To force the bract to turn red from green, store for 14 hours in complete darkness, eight weeks before you want to display them. Going back to the Mexican folklore, when the bract had ‘miraculously’ turned red after a prayer, it may have been kept out of the light for a certain period that triggers the process for the bracts to turn red.

What is new for Christmas 2020? The new varieties that are predicted to hit the market are Poinsettia ‘Christmas Mouse’ and ‘Sky Star’. Unlike the traditional Poinsettia, Christmas Mouse come with rounded tip bract which resemble the ear of a mouse, hence the name. The one that is gorgeous however is Sky Star. The shape of the bracts is still pointed but the red bract is with white specs of spots which resembles sparks of lights. Other new hybrids that are for consideration are the ‘J’adore’ series which are available in white, pink, dark pink and soft pink. Varieties that are different in their foliage include ‘Robyn Red’, ‘Blissful Red’ and ‘Mirage Red’.

Poinsettia, are mildly toxic to humans, cats and dogs, claims that they are poisonous are greatly exaggerated but do avoid ingesting them with the simple reason that they are non-edible plants. In conclusion, Poinsettia are safe, with many hybrids for choice for colours and now with the new Christmas Mouse variety, there are shapes and sizes to make one’s heart content. For a splash of colour for Christmas, Poinsettia is a good choice for indoor plants during this festive season, may it be for a decorations purposes or to celebrate the magic of Christmas that once, brought joy to a little girl’s heart.