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Holiday poinsettias add perfect accents
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- The holidays would not be the same without colorful poinsettias decking the halls and rooms across this country.
A native of Mexico, poinsettias were first brought to the United States by Joel Poinsett, an ambassador to Mexico in 1825. Once known as Flores de Noche Buena (Flowers of the Holy Night), most people know them by color, not variety. The colorful parts of the poinsettias are modified leaves known as bracts. The true flowers are the small yellow buttons in the centers of the bracts.
"Shop carefully for fully mature poinsettias with healthy foliage down to the soil line," said Norman Winter, horticulture specialist with Mississippi State University's Central Research and Extension Center in Raymond. "Whenever possible, place the plants in the sunniest spot in the building, but don't let the plants touch cold windowpanes. Heathy, durable plants can last well beyond the holiday season with the proper care."
Winter said the two most common care problems for poinsettias center around watering either too much or too little. When the soil surface feels dry, water until it runs freely out the drainage hole in the container. Be sure to allow the excess water to drain away from the container because allowing the plant to stand in water will suffocate the roots.
Since poinsettias are greenhouse-grown at day temperatures of 70 to 72 degrees and night temperatures of about 60 degrees, plants will last longer if provided similar conditions. Mississippi growers will produce between 250,000 and 300,000 poinsettias in many different colors and varieties.
"Poinsettia displays are a holiday tradition, and many of the newer varieties are solidifying their popularity for many years to come," Winter said.
Dark red varieties...
Winter said his favorite variety is Pepride, which has dark green leaves and deep red bracts that are shaped like oak leaves. Another popular dark red variety with dark green leaves is Freedom. For a slightly different dark red variety, shoppers may look for Silver Star, which has variegated foliage of silver and green.
"When I first saw Winter Rose's red bracts, I thought the variety would be a market flop because its curled bracts were so different from traditional poinsettias. Instead, consumers have loved the rose-like bracts, so people should shop fast for this variety. Winter Rose's most popular color is red, but it is available in other colors as well," he said.
Sonora Jingle Bells is a dark red variety that has white flecks, giving the bracts a peppermint appearance.
"Plum Pudding, a maroon poinsettia, has excelled in consumer and grower trials," Winter said. "This color may be popular in Mississippi not because of any allegiance to Mississippi State University, but because many dining rooms, studies and living rooms now have a maroon, burgundy or dark mauve influence. While red seems to clash, Plum Pudding excels."
Winter said Monet, a pink variety, is one of the most beautiful poinsettias ever developed. The bracts are pink with drifts of a darker pink or burgundy, giving it a painted look. Marble Star is another pink variety with a creamy white variegation that gives it a marbled look.
Winter said several white varieties are beautiful, unique and work well in combination with the red selections. Leading white selections are White Star, White Christmas and Snowcap White.
Winter said one myth that has hung around for years is that poinsettias are poisonous. Research at Ohio State University has proven conclusively that the poinsettia plant, and its juices are not poisonous.