VARIETY: Poinsettias in an assortment of colours.

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Poinsettias the Christmas flower

By LISMOORE

Poinsettias are a widespread Christmas tradition, both for gift-giving and holiday decorating in homes, churches, offices, restaurants, shops and malls. It is used not just in Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean, but also the United States, UK, Austraila, Germany and Central America. It is grown commercially in over 100 varieties, and it's the most popular Christmas plant, and has a reputation of being disposable. Yes, many of these lovely plants end up in the trash once the holidays are over. Your poinsettia will not only make a beautiful indoor plant all year long, but can also be coaxed to bloom again each year in time for Christmas. The poinsettia is native to Mexico and Central America and was introduced to the United States in 1828 by Joel Roberts Poinsett.

He was the first US Ambassador to Mexico and had a passion for botany. Upon discovering this shrub, he became so enchanted with its bright red blooms that he sent some to his South Carolina home to be propagated. Most people believe that poinsettias are only red, but in fact they also come in white, yellow and pink. Off course, the marble red is the most fascinating. They are available at all local plant shops and florists in a variety of sizes and can be used both in the home and outdoor.

What makes

Poinsettias red

Poinsettias have thin, pale green leaves. When in bloom, they display brightly coloured leaves in red, pink or white on the top of each stem. Although many mistakenly think that these leaves are flower petals, the actual flowers are the tiny yellow clusters found at the centre of the bracts (bracts are simply leaves masquerading as petals).

Many people wonder what makes poinsettias turn red. It is actually the plant's leaves that provide its colour through a process called photoperiodism. This process, in response to certain amounts of light or lack thereof, turns the leaves from green to varying shades of colour. This plant is not actually a flower; it is in fact specialised leaves.

In order to get a poinsettia plant to turn red, you need to eliminate its light. Flower formation is actually triggered by periods of darkness. During the day, poinsettia plants require as much bright light as possible in order to absorb enough energy for colour production. At night, however, poinsettia plants must not receive any light for at least 12 hours. Therefore, it may be necessary to place plants in a dark closet or cover with cardboard boxes.

Caring for your poinsettias

Watering — Examine the soil daily, and when the surface is dry to the touch, water the soil until it runs freely out the drainage hole in the container. When watering, ensure that enough water is applied so that some will run out the drainage hole.

If a saucer is used, discard the water that collects in it. Do not leave the plant standing in water. Overly wet soil lacks sufficient air, which results in root injury. A wilted Poinsettia plant may drop its leaves prematurely, so check the soil frequently. Plants exposed to high light and low humidity require more frequent watering. If wilting does occur, immediately water and 5 minutes later water again.

Lighting — If you obtain a Poinsettia for your home, place it near a sunny window where it will have the most available sunlight. A window that faces south, east or west is better than one facing north.

Make your

poinsettias re-bloom

Poinsettias bloom in response to shortening daylight hours. If you wish to coax your poinsettia to bloom in time for the holidays, you will need to put the plant in total darkness for at least twelve hours (fourteen is better) 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. each night for approximately ten weeks.

Late September or early October is a good time to begin this regimen. You can place your plant inside a box, a cupboard, or a closet to achieve complete darkness. Be sure to bring your plant out during the day and place it in a bright, sunny spot.

After it flowers, gradually decrease the water until the bracts (leaves) all drop, then allow the plant to dry out completely. Store in a place with cooler temperatures. By late May, repot your plants in the same pot or one that is 1 to 2 inches larger with fresh soil and start to water again and fertilise gradually. Around August, cut the plant back by a third and make a decision.

Do we want bushy with small flowers or shrubby with big flowers (my pick)? If we choose the latter, we cut the plant back to three (3) to five (5) stems and grow it out (remember gloves if you have sensitive skin). A poinsettia can look quite lovely when planted with foliage plants with contrasting leaf colour, shape, and/or size. Don't prune your plant any later than September, if you wish to force it to bloom for Christmas.

There are some studies that claim that Poinsettias are toxic and poisonous and some that don't. As a precautionary measure, remember to place your poinsettias up high and out of reach if you have small children and pets. Poinsettias are a beautiful holiday tradition, but your enjoyment of these charming plants does not have to end when the Christmas tree comes down. With just a little effort, you can derive pleasure from your poinsettia all year long, and bring it to bloom for many holiday seasons to come.....................Enjoy and season's greetings!

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