As the holiday season gets closer, it seems as though the star-shaped leaves of red and white poinsettias begin to pop up everywhere you turn.
Poinsettias are one of the most popular Christmas decorations around, creating a more than $200 million market in the U.S. each year. But have you ever wondered how the poinsettia plant has became a holiday staple alongside our Christmas trees and mistletoes?
The plants are actually more of a tropical shrub that naturally grow in southern regions such as Mexico and the Philippines. There the plants can grow as high as 12 feet tall and can bloom in a variety of hues including yellow and pink aside from the red and white that we often see. They were also once used in ancient medicines and to dye clothing.
However, using poinsettias to symbolize Christmas came from a biblical tail originating from Mexico.
The legend tells of a girl who could only offer a simple green bush that grew near her home as a gift to Jesus on Christmas Eve. When the young girl brought the bush into a church, it then blossomed into a beautiful red plant and became known as Flores de Noche Buena, which translates to flowers of the holy night.
Another explanation, is that since the plant’s leaves resemble a star shape, it can symbolize of the Star of Bethlehem that led the three wise men to Jesus on Christmas day.
But poinsettias didn’t actually arrive in the U.S. until the 19th century when Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett, who the plant was named after, became the first U.S. ambassador to visit Mexico, according to Rich Trinklein, botanist at Trinklein Greenhouses. During his visit to southern Mexico in 1828, the ambassador saw the plants as he traveled through the wilderness. Having had experience in botany, he decided to send cuttings of the plant back to his home in South Carolina. Although it was not immediately embraced, the plant that turned bright red every winter eventually caught on over the years, and by the 20th century it became another botanical decoration during the holidays.
Luckily for Mid-Missourians, we don’t have to go very far to find where poinsettias are being grown today. Local nurseries such as the family-run Trinklein Greenhouses have been growing poinsettias for more than 30 years.
“It mostly came about by the fact that we had bedding plant greenhouses sitting idle in the Fall and we use some of them now for mums and then some of them for poinsettias,” said Rich, who is one of the many family members that work in the greenhouses. “It gives us a way of utilizing our watering equipment and our heating equipment and stuff during the off season.”
Roughly 20,000 poinsettias are grown at Trinklein Greenhouses each year, with their blooming initiation date beginning between Sept. 10-25. During the next few months the poinsettias will slowly grow new brackets of leaves with transitional color.
“However, if the night time temperatures remain above 70 then they will fail to initiate blooms. They’re much more finicky,” Rich said in comparison to other seasonal plants.
Rich also mentioned that poinsettias are not very difficult to grow but that they will not bloom unless they are kept in a place where they will only receive natural day light with close to 64 degrees at night and 72-78 degrees during the day.
“So getting them to initiate the bloom is probably more trouble than it’s worth for the average home gardener,” he said.
However, once the poinsettia is fully bloomed, or if they are bloomed when purchased, it is relatively easy to keep them healthy.
“When the people get them and they already have all those blooms they don’t really need that sunlight to perform photosynthesis anymore, they’re basically done growing this year,” Rich said. “So for the home customer, if they want to put them on a coffee table and the light they get is from the window 6 feet away or if they get some artificial light they’ll survive there for the Christmas season.”
If you find that your red poinsettia begins to fade, you’ll want to keep it, at least at night, in your coolest room, Rich suggested. You should also keep in mind that whether you bloom or buy your poinsettias, then there should be no reason to refertilize them after the blooming process.
“As a matter of fact the advise in the industry for growers like us is, before you send them out to just water them with pure water a couple times because again once it starts to bloom that’s it for them for the year so they don’t need anymore fertilizer because they’re not going to grow,” he explained.
For the poinsettias at Trinklein Greenhouses most of them will go toward the St. Mary’s Auxiliary poinsettia sale, which use their proceeds toward St. Mary’s activities and to the Helias Boosters poinsettia sale who use their proceeds to support student programs.
The remainder of the plants will be sold at Busch’s Florist or at the Trinklein Greenhouses store, as well as any leftover plants used by Rich’s brother and sister-in-law to make a Christmas poinsettia tree at their local church.
If you’re looking for new ways to decorate with your poinsettias this year, you may find some ideas online at www.hgtv.com/design-blog/design/poinsettia-decor-ideas.
For additional information about how to bloom poinsettias at home, or tips on any of your gardening projects, anyone is welcome to visit with the staff at Trinklein Greenhouses or reach them at 573-496-3339.
“They’re welcome to come out any time to take a look,” Rich said. “You like gardening, we like talking to you because we like gardening.”