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Poinsettia: December Houseplant of the Month

What you first notice about the poinsettia are the beautifully colored leaves. They’re often thought to be the flowers, but are actually bracts that form a star shape around the true flowers, which are small and yellow, clustered in the center.

The classic red poinsettia is familiar, but trending for December 2019 are modern pastel colors such as salmon, pink, lemon and apricot. It’s an instant mood maker for the holidays and thereafter, because this winter bloomer provides a colourful start to 2020. 


The poinsettia or Christmas star (Euphorbia pulcherrima) originates from Mexico and Central America, where it grows as a deciduous shrub that can reach a height of 12 feet (4 meters). The plant blooms outdoors from November to February and loses its leaves entirely during the heat of the summer.

The Aztecs considered the plant to be holy; they called it Cuitlaxochitl. 

Poinsettia Assortment


The poinsettia is a “short day” plant: its star-shaped bracts take on color when the days get shorter, which coincides nicely with the Christmas period in the northern hemisphere. The range is constantly expanding, and poinsettia is offered from mini and standard sizes through to hanging plants and tree shapes. The main colors are red and white, while new colors such as lilac, salmon, cream and bicolored poinsettias are catching on quickly. 

Increasingly, merchants create what they see as added value by decorating the bracts with glitter, dyes or other decorative treatments. Be careful: sometimes these additions are bit garish!

The appealing bracts mean that the plant offers unlimited opportunities to create atmosphere in the run-up to Christmas.

What to Look for When Buying a Poinsettia 

Poinsettias come in all sizes and colors.
  • The pot size and number of bracts should be in proportion, and the plant must be mature enough to show good color.
  • There is a choice of single-headed plants, minis, topped or branched plants, standards of various heights and hanging plants.
  • They must all be free of pests and diseases; particularly check for the presence of whiteflies on the underside of the leaves.
  • Damaged bracts or foliage are usually caused during shipping or storage, particularly if temperatures are too low.
  • Yellow leaves indicate too little moisture, while the loss of buds in the center of the “flower” is a sign of insufficient light.

Care Tips 

If you accidentally break off a stem, use it as a cut flower!
  • The poinsettia is very cold sensitive, so make sure it is carefully wrapped at purchase for the trip home.
  • It likes a bright spot in the home, but doesn’t need full sun during the winter.
  • The soil should always be slightly damp.
  • The plant cannot cope with drafts or very warm locations, such as above the radiator or next to a crackling log fire.
  • If your poinsettia’s leaves turn yellow and drop off, you should place the plant in a cooler and lighter spot and increase the atmospheric humidity. That should perk it back up.
  • Fertilizer is only useful if you intend to keep and rebloom the plant; it can be applied at a reduced dose spring through summer.
  • After the bracts drop (they can last until May if the plant is exceptionally well cared for), you can rebloom your poinsettia by following the instructions given here.

Decorating with Poinsettias

Group smaller plants together for a more striking display.

The trend for December 2019 is a cheerful Christmas in pastel colors. Poinsettias can be added to other Christmas decorations in various festive styles, from classic red and white to trendy candy colors. The emphasis this year is on the pink, green and apricot shades. Display these modern colors in matching festive pots. 

One original idea is decorate your Christmas tree with mini poinsettias! So do so, remove the roots of these tiny plants from their pots and wrap them in sphagnum in order to prevent them from drying out or place them in the tree in little hanging buckets. 

Another idea? Decorate a large poinsettia with fairy lights as an alternative Christmas tree!

The poinsettia: you really can’t escape it! Every home needs at least one for Christmas!

Text and photos adapted from a press release by
Styling by Elize Eveleens, Klimprodukties

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

1 comment on “Poinsettia: December Houseplant of the Month

  1. Gads! The epitome of disposable horticulture. I enjoy growing my particular horticultural commodities, but they are relatively easy. If I grew something as majorly labor intensive as poinsettias, I would want people to enjoy them for many years! While I was still in school, Paul Ecke (son of Paul Ecke who popularized poinsettias more than a century ago) told me that poinsettias are a crop that appeals more to the cut flower growers than to those of us who grow nursery stock.

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