Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima)

The poinsettia is commonly seen around Christmas when it is used to decorate homes and business. Their popularity means that the plants often sell for quite a high price, and although it comes in cream and pink, the red variety remains the most sought after around the festive season. I spotted this beautiful specimen (one of the most vivid reds I've ever seen) on a large shrub near work. It is a delight to walkk past and admire:

What we commonly refer to as 'flowers' are in fact 'bracts' (colored leaves if you will) which actually surround the rather insignificant yellow flowers within:

It is interesting to note that reduced day light induces the poinsettia into bloom. So of course in the northern hemisphere, as Christmas approaches, days get shorter and the poinsettia blooms (I have heard that to induce flowering out of season that you put it in a cupboard after 4-5 hours of light a day for 2 months. Remember, things such as street or car lights will affect its ability to bloom). Yet here in the southern hemisphere, days shorten about now, and the plant is in bloom during June and July.

The poinsettia is reputed to be very easily propagated, and the process is similar to that of propagating frangipanis (dry the cutting for a few days before planting in well-drained soil in the warmer months). The plant exudes a sticky yellow sap when broken (as with most euphorbias) so care is needed when handling it.

It is believed that the plant's association with Christmas started in the 16th century when a young peasant girl in it's native Mexico, too poor to afford any gifts, picked some blooms and placed them at an altar to commemorate the birth of Christ. Taken by the plant's beauty the nuns then started to do the same - and a custom was created.

 More locally, the poinsettia was chosen as the floral emblem of Brisbane when the city was formally formed in 1925. A subtropical climate, the plant thrives there. Here in Sydney the plant also does exceptionally well, but again is usually only seen in older inner city areas - it can't handle the more extreme temperatures of the Western suburbs.


  1. I always wondered why it was a Christmas plant. They do grow well at this time of year. I didn't realise they were that easy to propagate. My brother has a bush at his old house. I might see if I can get a cutting. xx

  2. Yes, they should strike easily (though I've never tried). Just make sure there is no flower on the cutting; it will divert energy away from growing roots. Coincidentally I saw the biggest poinsettia I've ever seen in my life today - at least 5m tall by 5m wide. A real tree!

  3. Most people treat the poinsettia (also called Christmas star, Mexican flame leaf, or lobster plant) as an annual, purchasing a new plant at the beginning of the traditional winter flowering period and discarding it at the end.
    Euphorbia Pulcherrima Euphorbiaceae house Plant Care


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