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December 2, 2002

Poinsettias demand special care for holiday beauty

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – No matter what their color, great care is needed to keep poinsettias in the pink through the holidays, according to Purdue University experts.

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No longer just red, poinsettia's other colors have reached popularity with consumers. Last year Purdue researchers took poinsettias to the White River Gardens in Indianapolis, where visitors voted on their favorite variety. The winner, called Sonora White Glitter, had red bracts (leaves) with white spots, said Allen Hammer, a professor of horticulture.

Consumers should know what to look for when browsing poinsettias at the store, said Rosie Lerner, Purdue Extension consumer horticulture specialist. Some defects to look for are bare spots along the stem, discoloration, leaf blemishes and wilting.

"Once wilted, the leaves will drop quickly," Lerner said.

It is better to purchase poinsettias closer to the time of parties or holiday events so they will look their best, Lerner said. However, finding the poinsettia of choice right before the holidays could be a problem. Most have been picked through by early season shoppers.

One way to keep poinsettias lasting longer is to avoid stressing the plant. Stress can be caused by the humidity level, air drafts, lack of sunlight and soil moisture.

"When the air is very dry, plants tend to lose moisture faster," Lerner said. She recommends running a humidifier to increase the comfort of poinsettias and other plants in the house.

Lerner said poinsettias prefer a cool but not cold area and don't do well when exposed to drafts. For this reason, poinsettias should not be placed near doors, vents or drafty windows.

Poinsettias should receive reasonable amounts of light. Lerner said the plants should be placed near a bright, sunny window, but not in contact with the cold glass. She also said that the soil should be moist but not overly wet.

Many parents are concerned that children could be poisoned by the poinsettia, but researchers have found this to be untrue, Lerner said.

"Much research has shown they are not toxic, but some people might have a reaction to the milky substance in the plant," she said.

For those interested in raising these Christmas plants year round, Lerner has some tips.

During summer, poinsettias can be grown as outdoor plants, but have to be brought indoors around late August or early September to protect them from the cold.

Once inside, poinsettias need uninterrupted darkness for at least 12 hours each day to initiate the flowering process in time for the holidays. The plant should be placed in a closet or under an upside down box. The dark treatment can be discontinued once the plant starts showing color on the bracts.

More information about keeping a poinsettia plant throughout the year is in the Purdue Extension Bulletin HO-73, "The Poinsettia." It's available online.

Writer: Michelle Betz, (765) 494-8402, news_students@aes.purdue.edu

Sources: Rosie Lerner, (765) 494-1311, rosie@purdue.edu

Allen Hammer, (765) 494-1335, hammer@purdue.edu

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722; Beth Forbes, bforbes@aes.purdue.edu; http://www.agriculture.purdue.edu/AgComm/public/agnews/

Related Web site:
Purdue University Horticulture and Landscape Architecture Web site

 

PHOTO CAPTION:
The distinctive white speckled leaves makes the Sonora White Glitter variety (foreground) stand out in a sea of red and white poinsettia plants. Purdue senior Eileen Looby helps maintain the poinsettias in the Purdue Horticulture Greenhouse. (Purdue Agricultural Communication photo/Tom Campbell)

A publication-quality photograph is available at ftp://ftp.purdue.edu/pub/uns/lerner.poinsettias.jpeg.


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