Let Them Go Green….Again?

By Gardennia nutii

What to do with those holiday poinsettias? How about letting them go green just in time for the St. Patrick’s Day holiday? This is the exact sentiment I had a few years ago, a sentiment much to the dismay of our neighbor’s kid who sells poinsettias every year to raise money for his soccer team. My experiment to keep these plants past the holiday season and let them grow naturally lasted almost two years – that is how long it took for them to grow into leggy, scraggly plants which were no longer worthy of my prime in-house real estate.

Well…I’m back to square one. I bought poinsettias to support kid’s soccer, and now that the holiday season is coming to a close I find myself with beautiful plants I can’t seem to toss. Do I learn from my past experiment that yielded leggy plants? Or do I run the experiment all over again with new knowledge? I haven’t made up my mind, but in the process of weighing my options did a bit of research on poinsettias and learned some fun things:

  • Poinsettia is actually Euphorbia pulcherrima. As a plant in the genus euphorbia, take care not to overwater and use caution when handling the plant because the white sap can be irritating to the skin and stomach, and can cause temporary blindness if it gets in your eye.
  • In its native Mexico habitat, it is a shrub or small tree reaching two to 16 feet in height. If you want to see poinsettias grown in the wild visit this site: www.explorelifeonearth.org/poinsettia.html.
  • The colored bracts you see during the holidays come as the result of triggering a photoreceptor protein which requires at least 12 hours of darkness at night, and the really bright bracts need a lot of light during the day to reach their prime color.
  • The Ecke family had a virtual monopoly on poinsettia production in the U.S. until only about 20 years ago. The reason for their monopoly was due to a secret which yielded a fuller, more compact (and more desirable) plant. This was done by grafting two varieties of poinsettia together.

This last tidbit is something to keep in mind if you plan on keeping your poinsettia as a more permanent house plant, something I didn’t know when beginning my experiment a few years ago. I cut my plants back as they aged to encourage a bushier form, but I now know that in cutting them back, I most likely took off the grafted (more desirable) poinsettia and left the natural plant to grow. So the leggy plants that resulted were ‘oh natural’.

Thanks to the Ecke family, the many growers who produce these holiday treats and the local kids soccer funding needs, I’m once again facing my holiday conundrum: to compost or to let it grow? I still don’t know the path I’ll choose, but its fun contemplating the possibilities.

What do you do with your holiday poinsettias? Let us know!