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Poinsettias can hold their color way past Christmas

                                Ice Punch poinsettia dazzles with its variegated foliage.


    Ice Punch poinsettia dazzles with its variegated foliage.

It was a 191 years ago that Ambassador Joel Poinsett brought the plant we now know as the poinsettia to the United States. There is no way he could have dreamed of all of the colors, shapes, treatments or enhancements you find with today’s poinsettias. Ambassador, we thank you for your vision.

Recently I was at a high-end food market and was mesmerized with all of the different choices of poinsettias they were offering their customers. One in particular that amazed me was a red poinsettia that looked as though it had a light dusting of ice crystals.

No matter how you choose to use them, the poinsettia has long been a Christmas tradition. And even though Christmas has passed, the durable plants can promise weeks of enjoyment.

Legend has it that the tradition started long ago, when they were called Flores de Noche Buena (flowers of the holy night) because of the legend of Pepita and Pedro.

The story told, was that a little girl in Mexico, named Pepita, and her cousin, Pedro, were on their way to church in honor of the Christ child. Pepita was poor and had no money for gifts. On the way to church she picked a bouquet of wildflowers, and as she laid them lovingly on the altar, they turned into beautiful poinsettias, hence the name Flores de Noche Buena.

The colorful parts of a poinsettia are actually modified leaves known as bracts. The true flowers are the small, yellow buttons in the centers of the bracts. The traditional color may be red, but colors and varieties today have reached staggering numbers.

If you are like me, we are similar kids in a candy store when it comes to poinsettias; we love them all and need three of each. Give me some Monet, Ice Punch; oh, that elegant Vision of Grandeur, then I need seven of the Carousel and five of the Winter Rose.

You can quickly see the dilemma both for shopper and the greenhouse producer. With hundreds of varieties, there is just no way one could grow them all.

Look for plants with fully mature, thoroughly colored and expanded bracts, and small green flower buds. Select plants with dark green foliage down to the soil line. This indicates a healthy root system. As a rule of thumb, poinsettias should be 2-1/2 times bigger than their pots. In other words, a 15- to 18-inch-tall plant looks best in a 6-inch container.

Carefully inspect packaged poinsettias before purchasing them. With the busy holiday season, forgetting to water can be disastrous for a poinsettia. Feel the soil, and water when it is dry to the touch.

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