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Test your poinsettia IQ

Poinsettias are available in an array of colors such as these available at Shotwell’s Floral. (Forum News Service photo)

By Don Kinzler

Almost 53 percent of Americans will soon purchase a nochebuena. Although it sounds like something you’d order at a taco drive-through, nochebuena is the name Mexican locals gave to the redflowered plant brought to the United States in 1826 by Joel Poinsett. We call it the poinsettia.

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Various shades of red, pink, white, and speckled were developed by natural plant breeding. But how about the bright blue, purple and even orange specimens? And the flower bracts are glittery? I know Mother Nature doesn’t sprinkle her handiwork with gold glitter, so I decided to do some investigation.

The unusual colors are produced by spray-painting white poinsettias with vegetable-based dyes and then adding glitter while still wet. I peeked underneath the bracts, and sure enough they’re white. I admit they are pretty, so I won’t question the morality of spray-painting plants and then dousing them with glitter. Let’s test our holiday plant IQ with a true-and-false quiz: Q: Poinsettias are poisonous. A: False. They do exude a milky sap that can be a skin irritant, but America’s foremost poinsettia breeder Paul Ecke has eaten leaves numerous times on national television to prove their safety. Q: Poinsettias are tropical in origin and should be kept warm. A: True. When purchasing, insist that the retailer enclose the plant in a plastic bag secured at the top, enclosing it in a bubble of warm air. Even a few minutes exposed to temperatures below 45 degrees can cause irreversible damage. Protect poinsettias as you would an unclothed baby.

Q: Because they’re tropical, poinsettias should be placed close to heaters.

A: False. Although they don’t like being chilled, they also resent dry heat blasts indoors. Produced in greenhouses at temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees, they’ll appreciate similar conditions in the home, and added humidity is always a plus.

Q: Poinsettias should be watered every day.

A: False. The life of your plant will be decreased by both overwatering and underwatering. Water when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch but you can still feel moisture below. If the pot is wrapped in foil, poke holes in the bottom for drainage. Apply enough water to wet the entire soil ball, but never allow the plant to stand in water.

Q: Poinsettias should be placed in sunlight.

A: True. They’ve been grown in sunny greenhouses, so providing sunshine in the home will keep them growing longer. It’s fine to display them in other locations if you aren’t intending to keep them past the holidays.

Q: Getting a poinsettia to re-bloom is difficult.

A: False. It’s easy, but it takes commitment.

Keep them growing in a sunny window for the rest winter. In early June, cut back to 4 inches above soil line, repot if needed, and sink pot and all into a sheltered flowerbed with full- or half-day sun.

Bring back indoors in late August to a sunny window. On Oct. 1, begin a daily regimen of nine hours light and 15 hours dark, by covering the plant at 5 p.m. and uncovering at 8 a.m. until Dec. 1.

Flower bract formation is triggered by short day length, which occurs naturally in late fall, but our indoor lighting stymies the process, and so the need for covering the plant.

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