Many of you are enjoying the Christmas and holiday season, along with the traditional holiday decorating and purchasing of poinsettias. Most of us are familiar with their colorful leaves and abundance during this season.

The poinsettia has a long and colorful history. During the 14th-16th centuries the sap was used to control fevers, and the bracts (modified leaves) were used to make a reddish dye by the Aztecs. They called the plant "Cuetlaxochitle" and Montezuma, the last of the Aztec kings, would have the plants brought into the area now known as Mexico City by caravans because the poinsettia could not be grown in the high altitude.  Chile and Peru call the poinsettia "Crown of the Andes". The botanical name, Euphoria Pulcherrima, was assigned to the poinsettia by German botanist Wilenow. It means "very beautiful."

Did you know that in nature the poinsettias are perennial flowering shrubs that can grow to ten feet tall? The showy colorful parts of the poinsettia that most people think are the flowers are actually colored bracts or modified leaves. The flowers are actually in the center of the colorful bracts! Poinsettias have also been called the lobster flower, the flame leaf flower, and "Flower of the Holy Night."

Poinsettias are not poisonous.

So how do we select a poinsettia to take home and enjoy during the season? Choose a plant with dark green foliage down to the soil line. Bracts should be completely colored. It should be 2 ½ times taller than the diameter of the container and the plant should look full, balanced, and attractive from all sides. Do NOT choose one with yellow, fallen leaves; one that is drooping or wilted; or one that has a great deal of yellow pollen. If you choose carefully you may enjoy the colorful display for weeks and perhaps months.  

We traditionally look for the red or white or pink poinsettias, but the many new colors that have been developed are quite beautiful. They come in some unexpected colors - coral pink, plum, cream, marbled, two tones, speckled, or frosted! Here are a few to look for and admire: A speckled choice is "Jingle Bells"; marbled "Peterstar Marble "; edged in ivory "Strawberries 'n Cream"; or frosted "Monet". Or perhaps a rounded flower shape with bracts that curl under called "Winter Rose" is more your choice. Or "Holly Point" which has variegated leaves. Or how about choosing a miniature variety known as "Mini Star?”

You also don't have to keep them in the pots either. Consider cutting the stem and using the florist’s flower-picks so they can be placed in various decorations throughout the house. The

Poinsettia is a wonderful, traditional way to brighten up the season and enjoy growing plants all winter. Have a wonderful holiday and enjoy your Poinsettia!

For more information contact the Erath County Extension Office at 965-1460.

Lonnie Jenschke is an Erath County extension agent.