The rich red bracts, deep green leaves and clusters of tiny, bright yellow or white flowers of the potted poinsettia are synonymous with Christmas, all around the world. Which begs the question - how does the poinsettia produce flowers for our summertime Christmas, at the same time as it bursts into bloom for the northern hemisphere’s winter?
There’s a bit of funny stuff going on. Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are in fact native to southern Mexico, and flower naturally during late autumn and winter. But to get them flowering for the Australian Christmas, growers manipulate the day lengths in their greenhouses - making the day seem much shorter than it actually is - to coax the plants out of their natural cycles.
That doesn’t mean that the cycle won’t right itself eventually. And there’s no need to keep your poinsettias pot bound. They can grow into an attractive garden specimen up to four metres tall, and delight with a splash of bold colour that will liven up the dreary winter months.
Being naturally a tropical plant, poinsettias do very well in Australia’s tropical and sub-tropical zones and can cope in the temperate zones so long as they’re in a warm spot and protected from winds and frosts.
To keep the Christmas spirit alive, give your poinsettia a good prune to encourage new growth and get it back into its natural rhythm. But wear gloves when pruning and wash your hands afterwards because, like all members of the Euphorbia family, poinsettias produce a white, milky, sticky sap that can cause skin allergies.
In the garden, they need fertile, well-drained soil in a spot that gets at least six hours of direct or indirect sun a day. Fertilise in June to promote flowering, then you can really enjoy Christmas in July, year after year.
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