Unmistakable. Of all the plants which appear in December, the poinsettia has probably come to symbolise Christmas – it’s the indoor equivalent of the holly and it’s done its best to usurp cyclamen and hyacinths as the festive flowers.
But without man’s help, Euphorbia pulcherrima would still be soaking up the sun thousands of miles away from the UK. It’s only because we have tinkered with its make-up that it’s now the most popular living Christmas present.
Years ago, it was tall and leggy and lived in relative obscurity; today, it is compact, bright and easy to accommodate. But it’s not really a flowering plant – those great, red blooms are, in fact, nothing more than glorified leaves.
That doesn’t put off millions of people who every year buy one, either for their own home or as a present – give a plant and you have shown you care. It’s then up to the recipient to look after it. And while looking after a poinsettia should be relatively straightforward, many people end up with plants that should be on the compost heap.
All these specially-produced euphorbias want is a reasonable temperature (between 55 and 60F), plenty of light (but not direct sun), water, an occasional misting of their leaves, and perhaps a little food when they are at their peak.
Over-water and the leaves will wilt; under-water and the leaves will wilt and turn dry; dry air will also turn leaves brown and encourage red spider mites to take up residence; and leaving a plant behind the curtains on a frosty night can also have a devastating effect. Just remember to bring it into the room when you shut out the darkness.
There’s not a lot of point in trying to keep a poinsettia from one year to the next, although that doesn’t seem to stop people from trying. After leaves have fallen, cut back the stems to 4in. Let the compost dry until May when you should start to water.
Then repot, feed and remove some of growth to leave five or so new stems, From the end of September, cover the plant with black polythene from evening till morning so that the plant has 14 hours of darkness each day for eight weeks.
Then, treat it normally. It will be taller than before because, originally, it will have been chemically treated to make it squatter and bushier.
It’s a lot easier to buy a new plant every year.