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Like everything in nature, there's always a point when plants are in their season and look their best. Walking through the greenhouse mid-November is like nothing else. The colour of the poinsettias and the sheer number of them all in one space makes for a spectacular show. All the different reds, whites, pinks, and multi-coloured plants are a spectacle for the senses.

Poinsettias are a type of Euphorbia plant. Euphorbia is a large family of plant from very tropical, like the poinsettia or crown of thorns, to the hardy perennial the cushion spurge. The majority of them have a latex sap which acts to protect them by tasting very bad and often causing stomach upset. Poinsettias aren't poisonous as the myth goes - they're a very strong irritant. An infant would need to consume over 20 plants to have any sort of toxic effects, and rarely would an infant or pet get beyond the first leaf or two.

The flower of the poinsettia is not very exciting. The actual flower consists of those small yellow bits in the centre of the coloured leaves. The coloured leaves are called bracts and, common to most euphorbias, the bracts are modified leaves to attract pollinators to their true flower in the centre.

Poinsettias are actually very easy to grow and keep for a long time in your home providing a few key points are followed.

  • Poinsettias cannot take cold. A cold draft from opening or closing the front door will often defoliate a poinsettia. The worst thing ever for a poinsettia is taking it home without protective wrapping.
  • Poinsettias don't like to be kept too dry or too wet. Making the mistake of watering a poinsettia too often when in a foil sleeve can cause the roots to actually sit in water and drown them. Instead, water them well, then drain the foil or saucer about 30 minutes after you water them. Make sure they don't get too dry to the point the leaves curl, either. A poinsettia under stress will drop it's green leaves and only retain their coloured leaves, but that doesn't look very nice.
  • Poinsettias hate to travel. The biggest dis-service to your enjoyment of a poinsettia is getting a poinsettia shipped over a long distance. All plants produce ethylene (think bananas ripening), only poinsettias are highly sensitive to ethylene. In essence, a poinsettia kept in a wrapper too long, or in a freight truck slowly poisons itself to death. That's why poinsettias often look "floppy" in stores while they look "perky" in the greenhouse. That floppiness is the beginning of a poinsettia killing itself.

Poinsettias shouldn't be considered a one or two week plant that looks floppy and sad. A poinsettia is a happy and festive plant giving colour and life to your home. Just keep in a bright spot, away from drafts, and properly watered and you can have your poinsettia flowering in your home for many months. And, if you get enthusiastic, you can grow your poinsettia year after year. After all, poinsettias are trees in their native Mexico.