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Few plants, if any, invoke the Christmas season more than the Poinsettia. They appear in stores around Thanksgiving and remain stocked until Christmas day. They are common dinner gifts for friends and family gathering to enjoy the holidays. Native to Mexico, Euphorbia pulcherrima or the Poinsettia grows to great heights of 10' or taller. The wonderful science of plant hybridization and selection has brought this outdoor plant indoors and created much smaller forms. In their native area Poinsettias are red and flower only when the nights grow longer. Those grown commercially for the holiday season are forced to bloom ( about 14 hours of complete darkness for about 10 weeks). The showy part of the plant is not actually a flower but specialized leaves called Bracts. The flowers themselves are small and yellow and appear at the base of the more colorful bracts. Contrary to popular myth, Poinsettias are not poisonous, but the milky sap common to all of the Euphorbia family can be mildly irritating if rubbed on the skin or ingested. Once a plant is brought home it should be kept watered and the soil kept moist (when the leaves just begin to droop is the best time to water). Plants should be kept in good strong light but out of direct sunlight (think greenhouse). Once they have completed flowering they will drop their leaves. It is then if you wish to keep the plant growing that the stems should be cut back to two buds and reduce watering quite a bit. After danger of frost has past the plant can moved outdoors to a sunny spot. Fertilize regularly. Poinsettias are heavy feeders but stop when you are ready to bring it inside. Once outside it will revert to growing much larger and if you wish to force it to bloom for the holidays again keep this in mind. You will probably also find that the bracts will be smaller. Also, Keep in mind that Poinsettias do not like cold weather. Even if most Poinsettia don't last until Spring, they surely do their part to brighten the holidays. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!


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