There has been a definite shift within the last few years, and houseplants are totally on trend right now, something my 10 year old self would be so pleased to see! However, where does that leave ‘gifting plants’, which are usually flowering indoor plants, and sometimes presented in a wicker basket with a bow… Furthermore, how about Christmas houseplants? Is there a place for these sparkly specimens on the Instagram timelines of them ‘jungalow’ gurus?
The Christmas plant I’m going to focus on in this article is the famous Poinsettia, a plant which sells in its millions around the world every year, yet some still see as old-fashioned and chintzy. So, just who are buying those plants and how can we nudge the houseplant hashtaggers to embrace their festive beauty….??
What actually is a Poinsettia?
If you were to see a Poinsettia plant in it’s natural habitat, I think you’d be surprised! Trees reach 10 feet tall and look rather stretchy, much like a Poinsettia on steroids! Plants are indigenous to Mexico, and are actually a Euphorbia. The first trees were brought to the US by Joel Roberts Poinset (Minister to Mexico) in 1825, hence their fresh new ‘Poinsettia’ name. Whilst the red blooms are so well-known around Christmas time, those ‘flowers’ are actually bracts (coloured leaves) and the actual true flower is nestled in the centre of those red bracts.
How did the Mexicans use this plant?
Aztecs called the Poinsettia flower ‘cuitlaxochitl’, which means Star Flower, and the latex (despite risks associated with it) had various medicinal uses, with the red bracts yielding a useful dye.
The vibrant red was already being used around Christmastime in Mexico for many years before it reached American stores though. Legend goes that Poinsettia started to be associated with Christmas when a small girl grabbed some blooms from the roadside to honour the baby Jesus in a festive procession. It was soon used more widely and later known as La Flor de La Nochebuena or Flower of the Holy Night.
But, how did the Poinsettia become USA’s no. 1 houseplant?
In the 1900’s, a family named Ecke moved to Eagle Rock in California, and had a small orchard and dairy. They soon noticed a showy shrub on their land, with fabulous red blooms each December. In 1909, they began selling cut blooms of Poinsettia at the side of the road in Sunset Boulevard, calling the stems ‘Christmas Flower’! Many years of development then helped the Ecke family to transform these large wild shrubs into compact festive houseplants!
Product placement really helped sales
As the Poinsettia become a useful winter cash crop for many growers, the Ecke family embarked on a marketing drive, subtly sending plants to television studios to feature on Christmas specials with hosts such as Johnny Carson, Ronald Reagan and Bob Hope. They also targeted top magazines such as Better Homes and Gardens and Women’s Day. Today, Americans buy more than 40 million Poinsettia plants per year.
So, who buys Poinsettia in the UK?
Florists and garden centres in Europe have really taken the Poinsettia and run with it in recent years, making it an easy to afford treat for the Christmas home! Studies tell us that the main consumers are women, aged 35 to 60 years old. However, with fresh new designer colours, that could all change…
Not all Poinsettia are red…
You may not like the look of the traditional red Poinsettia, but there are other options! Companies around the world have been developing a mind-boggling range of colours, from yellow and orange through to pink and bicoloured. There are even doubles that look just like roses! My tip for the top table this year is the WHITE. This neutral tone is set to transform the Poinsettia’s fortunes and hopefully welcome more into our homes! Our Scandinavian friends already buy 20% of their Poinsettia in colours other than red!
How could the white Poinsettia change the way we view this traditional plant?
Red is a strong colour, and can mean different things in different cultures. Whilst red is seen as lucky in Asia, it can be seen as brash and intense to European perceptions. White offers a more stylish looking option, which remixes the traditional into something more “hip” and trendy, and wouldn’t look out of place in any urban jungle!
As a table centrepiece, White Poinsettia will offer a talking point and the refreshing look will inspire us into the new year! If you’re a stylish homemaker, you may also find the white easier to place within existing decor.
Are Poinsettia easy to grow in the home, and how long do they last?
There are 3 golden rules to follow with Poinsettia for best results, so listen up!
- Allow plants to dry out between watering, keep soil on the dry side if possible.
- At all costs, avoid draughts and changes of temperature (if you want to get really professional, the ideal temperature is 15-20C!)
- Stand pot on a tray of moist pebbles to increase humidity around the plant
With this advice, your plant should flower throughout the festive period, and likely still be in bloom during the first few months of the new year.
And, what happens after flowering?
Once the final flowers fade, cut back to 20cm high, water well and feed. To flower your plant again in year 2, plants need uninterrupted long, dark nights (at least 12 hours), followed by bright days for around 2 months. They need total blackout. Any incidental light will hamper new bract production, so place undisturbed in a dark cupboard and don’t interrupt! Are you up for the challenge?? Re-flowering a Poinsettia is a true test of skills!
Where to find your white Poinsettia
White Poinsettias will be widely represented in florists and garden centres this November, and in the run up to Christmas, but do buy early because they are sure to be popular! Let me know where you buy yours from.
Here’s your opportunity to grow your white Poinsettia this Christmas!
I’ve chatted to the guys at Stars for Europe and they are offering a unique duo pack to my readers: a beautiful Poinsettia plant plus a Frida Kahlo inspired Mexican cushion (referencing the Poinsettia’s place of origin) from Graham & Green.
You have the chance of winning this amazing prize (with a total value of £100!) just by filling in the short form below:
Terms and conditions: This is a UK only competition. No cash alternative. Any entries submitted after the closing date (12.12.18) may not be accepted. You can opt out of the Mr Plant Geek mailing list at any time.
Michael has been involved with gardening and plants since he was just five years old. He is a self-professed Plant Geek, and was listed in the Sunday Times top 20 most influential people in the gardening world, thanks to his plant hunter role at Thompson & Morgan.
Michael was responsible for new plant introductions such as the Egg and Chips plant and the FuchsiaBerry and keeps busy travelling the world in search of new plants as well as lecturing worldwide, including stints in Japan. He is very active on social media – so why not give him a follow at @mr_plantgeek or Facebook – and writes a plant-focused Substack called Grow This, Not That.