Gardening: A few pointers on the poinsettia

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many poinsettias around as there are this year.

The poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) as a Christmas symbol actually originated, as so many traditions seem to do, the other side of the Atlantic.

A member of the huge spurge family, it is a native of Mexico, and its connection with Christmas may have started there in the 16th century, where there is a legend about a young girl who was too poor to provide a gift for the celebration of Jesus’s birthday. An angel told her to pick some wildflowers to place on the church altar, which sprouted the red blooms we know as poinsettias.

The ‘flowers’ are actually brightly coloured bracts; the true, quite insignificant flowers are in the centre of these, and if these look fresh and healthy, it is a sign that the plant will have many weeks of showiness to come. Red is still the most popular colour, although cream and pink forms provide a welcome change.

The popularity of the poinsettia as a winter house plant in Britain has developed from the 1960s with the introduction of grafting, bushier varieties, and growth control chemicals and lighting.

As a tropical plant, it does have specific needs in the home – a minimum temperature of around 15C, maximum light (at this time of year) and plenty of water.

If the leaves wilt too badly, they are likely to drop off. It likes high humidity – not likely to be found in the centrally heated living room! – so should be misted regularly.

May I wish the readers every success with your Christmas trees, poinsettias, indoor bulbs, and all other plants that make life so pleasant during the shortest days.