Troup extension agent: Poinsettias, America’s best selling houseplants

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 11, 2015

Brian Maddy

Contributing columnist

It’s the Christmas season again and poinsettias become the hottest selling houseplant. According to the USDA, growers produced 33.2 million plants worth about $141 million dollars. California and North Carolina lead the way with about one-third of the total production. Georgia horticulturists also grow hundreds of thousands of plants each year.

This multi-colored plant comes in many colors including scarlet, ivory, pink and mauve. What provides the color is the collection of leaves called “bracts.” The flower is actually the tiny yellow bloom at the center of the bract. Poinsettias were first used by Aztecs to die fabric and to treat fevers with the plant’s sap.

Joel Roberts Poinsett, United States ambassador to Mexico, first sent clippings back to his gardener friends in the states in 1828. This amateur botanist from Charleston continued to study and grow poinsettias and to share plants with other horticulturists, which led to its acceptance as a holiday plant. He also helped found the Smithsonian Institution. In the mid 19th century the plant were named after Poinsett. John Bartram of the famous botanist clan from Pennsylvania was the first nurseryman to sell poinsettias under their botanical name, Euphorbia pulcherrima.

When selecting poinsettias, pick out the plants with fully colored and expanded bracts. Stay away from the ones with green margins on the bract edges. This indicates that is was shipped before it was mature enough.

The plants should be well branched and proportioned, about 2.5 times the height of the pot. Look for rich, dense green leaves all along the stem. Don’t buy plants with weak stems or any sign of wilting.

Many are sold in sleeves for protection when taking home. Do not expose the plant to temperatures lower than 50 degrees on the way home. Remove the sleeve as soon as possible to maintain their quality. They need their space.

Check their leaves for evidence of hitchhiking white flies. Look on the underside of the leaves for white dots and stickiness. White flies suck the juices and excrete “honeydew” onto the leaves below.

If you can, check the roots. Make sure that they are white and light tan. Roots that have grown to the side of the pot indicate a healthy plant. Brown or few roots may indicate disease.

Once home, your poinsettia needs at least six hours of bright indirect sunlight each day. Keep your plant away from cold drafts and excessive heat such as heat registers. Color should last at least three weeks if you follow these precautions.

Overwatering is the principal cause of most plant death. Water when the soil feels dry to the touch. Let the water drain completely by removing the pan under the plant or foil enclosing the pot. Poinsettias do not like wet feet, but do not allow the plant to wilt. This may cause leaf drop.

Another tip is not to fertilize the plant during the blooming season. This will also lesson its quality.

Poinsettias add much color to the home during the Christmas season. A gift of a poinsettia will always bring a smile to the recipient.

What’s going on in Extension?

Jefferson Street Market begins Saturday mornings from 9:30 a.m. to noon at 625 Jefferson St. just off of Dallis Street.

Tree seedlings can be ordered from the Georgia Forestry Commission, 706-845-4122

Brian Maddy is the ANR Agent for Troup County Extension. The Troup County Extension office is located at 114 Church St. in LaGrange and may be reached at 706-883-1675, Monday–Friday 8 a.m.–noon and 15 p.m.