Indoor plants

Christmas star maintenance

The poinsettia: where it comes from, what it owes its name to

The poinsettia is a shrub native to Mexico, which we know today in its small varieties, produced over the years to favor its spread as an ornamental plant. The scientific name is Euphorbia pulcherrima, the name of the genus would seem to derive from Euforbo, a doctor who lived in the first century in Mauritania, who first described its characteristics, while the specific name simply means the most beautiful. It was known and cultivated by the Aztecs, for which it was a symbol of purity, who used it during rites, but also for other purposes such as dyeing fabrics. It was the Spanish missionaries who first used it during the celebration of Christmas. But we must wait until 1825 for the plant to begin its spread outside the homeland, when Joel R. Poinsett, American ambassador to Mexico, he decided to bring some specimens home. In English-speaking countries, the poinsettia is therefore called Poinsettia. In Italy it is very widespread, its first use dates back to 1899 when it was used to adorn the Basilica of San Pietro, arousing great admiration.

How it looks, the leaves and the particular inflorescences

The poinsettia, as mentioned, in the wild looks like a shrub that can reach 2-3 meters in height, the leaves are large, alternate, toothed or lobed, dark green, and sometimes with a slight fluff. The hybrids on the market are usually between 50 cm and one meter tall. Particularly original is the appearance of the inflorescences: those that look like large red petals are actually transformed leaves, called bracts, which form a crown around the small real flower, called cyathium. This is common to all euphorbias and consists of a female flower surrounded by male flowers, reduced to stamens, of a yellow-green color. The original species, the most loved and known, has bright red bracts, but today varieties of different colors are cultivated, not only classics like white or pink, but even blue. The reproduction takes place by cuttings obtained from the stem, 8-10 cm long. Be careful during the maintenance of the poinsettia, as it has a certain toxicity, in particular the latex produced by the cut parts can cause irritation and swelling.

The Christmas star: the most suitable environmental conditions

The best place to place the poinsettia is a very bright and well-ventilated place, but away from direct sunlight and dangerous drafts. The temperature must remain constant between 16 and 22 ° C, avoiding thermal changes. From late spring, where climatic conditions permit, it can also be placed outside. It is a photoperiod plant, that is to say that its vital functions are influenced by the intensity and quantity of light it receives, which is why flowering occurs around December when the days are shorter and the hours of light less. If it is grown indoors, starting from October it will therefore be necessary to recreate a condition of darkness for about 15 hours a day, or placing it in a room without artificial lighting, or providing to cover it from late afternoon to morning, bearing in mind that even if for a few hours it needs to receive a lot of light. During the flowering period it will also need more frequent watering than usual, 2-3 times a week, and fertilizer based on potassium and phosphorus every 15 days.

Poinsettia maintenance: The most important interventions in the maintenance of the poinsettia

The maintenance of the poinsettia is quite demanding, because it is a delicate plant and because its needs change according to the season. Often, after flowering, when it loses its leaves and becomes almost bare, it ends up throwing it away, but it is a shame: if the stem is healthy it is possible to keep it alive all year round and obtain a new flowering the following winter. For this purpose it is necessary to carry out well-timed interventions. First of all, it is necessary to proceed with a decisive pruning, cutting the stems 10 cm from the base to favor the production of new shoots, and place it in a well-lit room, but not in direct sunlight. Towards May, when it begins to grow, it should be moved to a larger pot, but only slightly: if it has too much space it will produce many leaves but few flowers. During the spring and summer it does not require to be watered often, but only when the soil is almost completely dry, being very careful to prevent the water from stagnating and not to wet the leaves. If you pay the necessary attention towards October, the production of bracts and flowers will start again.

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