Plant of the week


Each week, OGV sub-committee member, Gayle Parkes presents the 'Plant of the Week'. She also posts to OGV's Instagram - make sure you check back weekly for her latest post. This week Gayle brings us the poinsettia.

The poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is a commercially important plant species of the diverse spurge family. Indigenous to Mexico and Central America, Europeans described it in 1834. It is particularly well known for its red and green foliage and is widely used in Christmas floral displays.

Being the last Plant of the Week for the year, how could I possibly go past this iconic rich red beauty that gives us so much pleasure at this time of the year! I’m always so excited when I first see a mass of fresh, healthy pots of poinsettia lined up at the florists, nurseries and supermarkets. I just have to have at least one. I have a dear friend who always gifts a plant to me each year, it has sort of become a tradition now, one which I really appreciate. Christmas isn’t Christmas without a poinsettia sitting on my bench. My plant then takes centre stage on the heavily adorned Christmas table, basking in its own glory. These days, I treat my plant like I would a bunch of flowers. Fortunately a healthy plant lasts so much longer but try as I might, I can’t seem to bring them through the winter to flower again the next year.

With their star-shaped leaf bracts, poinsettias have become known as Christmas Stars in many other languages, including Stella di Natale in Italian and Weihnachtsstern in German. These velvety beauties are available in some stores in not only the deep reds, but in bright and pale pinks to creams. I love the plants with cream coloured bracts but I just can’t go past the red ones.

In Australia, the pots of poinsettia we buy at Christmas are actually forced to flower at this time. In their native Mexico, poinsettias bloom naturally during winter at Christmas. Here, professional growers recreate the ideal flowering conditions for poinsettias so that we don't miss out on the bright red blooms of these quintessentially festive flowers. Thank you growers! Much appreciated!

These plants require specific growing needs in order to retain their Christmas blooms. However, with proper care, your poinsettia should continue to put out growth, or in the least remain attractive for weeks after.

Poinsettia care begins with proper light, water, and temperature conditions. During the festive season, while in full bloom, they typically enjoy semi-cool, humid locations in bright, indirect light with plenty of moisture. Poinsettia plants should be watered thoroughly, taking care not to drown them by ensuring adequate drainage is available. Likewise, avoid letting them sit in water-filled saucers, which can lead to root rot.

Once the red leaves (bracts) have fallen, you have the option of discarding the plant or keeping it an additional year. For those choosing to continue with poinsettia care, decrease regular watering to allow the plant to dry out some. Also, relocate the poinsettia plant to a cool, dark area until spring or around April.

In spring, return the plant to a brighter spot. You will need to give the plant a hard prune to ensure it retains it bushy (rather than leggy) appearance and to give it the best chance of flowering again. The plant's branches should extend roughly 15cm from the pot's rim after pruning. It may also be a good idea to repot the poinsettia using the same type of soil. While poinsettias can be kept indoors throughout summer, many people choose to move them outdoors in a sunny, but protected, area of the flower garden by sinking the pot into the ground. Either way is fine. I hope you have more success than I have had in the past!

I have seen poinsettias planted in garden beds growing beautifully. I suppose they are in just the right position and have been given just the right love and care. I have also seen photographs of them having been “bonsai-ed”. They look magnificent! I follow an Instagram site of Ikebana. At the moment they are posting images of the most amazing floral arrangements featuring poinsettias. Whether you happen to be a “just for Christmas” or a “let’s try to nurse this on” type of poinsettia lover, you are sure to gain much pleasure from your plant. Have you purchased yours yet?