They are one of the most typical plants used for Christmas, even if not many people know that they come from far away; the Christmas star, also known as Poinsettia, is a plant of Mexican origin, introduced as ornamental plant, first in the United States, already during the 1800s. It has become one of the symbols of Christmas in Europe only since the 70-80s of the twentieth century.
The botanical name is Euphorbia pulcherrima; it is a shrub, which in nature reaches 2-3 meters in height, forming large evergreen groves. The foliage is dark, thin and rough, wide and with a jagged margin; during the autumn and winter months, at the apex of the young branches, large inflorescences develop, formed by very small yellowish, star-shaped, flowers, under which the plant shows off big bracts, often bigger than the leaves, of a bright red colour, shown more clearly by the dark foliage.
In order to better spread its cultivation as indoor plants, during the years, have been produced some hybrids of contained dimensions, which do not exceed the 40-50 cm of height and width; even if, usually, the plants cultivated in apartment, reach, at the most, the metre. Then, there are varieties with bracts of various colours, from the white to the pink, from the orange to the variegated pink.
Why an “exotic” plant at Christmas?
The red colour of the bracts of the poinsettias lends itself well to decorate the houses during the Christmas period, as this colour has become the symbol of Christmas over the years; red is the dress of Santa Claus, red the berries of the ornamental plants traditionally used, red the decorations of the Christmas fir.
The fact that this plant tends to bloom just in autumn and winter has quickly spread the use, given the ease with which you can produce new specimens, through the reproduction by cutting. It is also said the legend of two small Mexican children, who could not bring gifts to the crib of their town, brought simple branches of shrubs near their home, just leaning the branches to the crib these revealed large colorful flowers, which embellished the entire crib.
This legend is certainly linked to the tradition of the Christmas holiday, which would see, as welcome gifts, simple trinkets, candles and colored ribbons, because it is the thought that counts and not the gift itself.
In fact, as with most of the plants used during the holidays, what makes them in time a symbol of a holiday is the simple fact that during that given period of the year these plants are in bloom, or carry berries, or are easily available. The same European tradition in fact uses as typical plants of the festivities of the end of winter the holly, the fir, the holly, or all the plants of the forest that in this period are more beautiful and lush.
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Shall we throw it out after flowering?
How many of us have received at Christmas a beautiful Euphorbia pulcherrima, and after a couple of weeks have had to throw it away because completely devoid of foliage. This small shrub is not really so difficult to grow, following some trick we can enjoy the beautiful foliage throughout the year, and see the new inflorescences for several winters to follow.
Let’s consider first of all, however, that our Euphorbia pulcherrima certainly comes from a nursery where it was grown quickly and fed by force to make sure that it was ready for us as soon as possible, so let’s try to make sure that our plant gets used to the climate in the apartment gradually. First of all, it is essential to water the plant regularly, every time the soil is dry, avoiding water stagnation.
Since then, when they give it to us, it is in the middle of its development, we remind you to give it some fertilizer for flowering plants, for the whole autumn and winter, every 12-15 days. If our apartment has a very dry climate, let’s vaporize the foliage of the poinsettia, at least once a day, with demineralized water; and let’s position it in a fairly bright place, but far from direct heat sources and from the windows that we open more often.
When the large coloured bracts begin to wither, we prune the branches that carried them for at least ten centimetres, avoiding getting dirty with the latex contained in the branches; in fact, all the euphorbiaceae release toxic latex during pruning, which can also irritate the skin; if we were to get dirty, we should wash ourselves immediately under running water.
At the beginning of spring, we return our Christmas star to a slightly larger container than the previous one, filled with fresh, light, slightly acid soil.
In the summer we can place the plant in the open air, even in a place where it is exposed to a few hours of direct sunlight every day; in the winter instead we should leave it in the house, because it doesn’t like frost, and usually prefers temperatures above 10-14°C.
Christmas star – Euphorbia pulcherrima: To see the flowers again
Poinsettias are somewhat particular plants; most flowering plants begin to produce buds when the days are long enough, i.e. in spring and summer. Contrary to these, the christmas stars begin to produce buds when the days get shorter, i.e. in autumn and winter.
If we have managed to grow a poinsettia for the whole summer and we want to see it in bloom again, let’s position it in an area of the house where it receives a maximum of 7-8 hours of light per day, including artificial light; it goes without saying that if we place a poinsettia in the living room next to the TV and we are used to doing the small hours, our plant will receive at least 12-14 hours of light per day, and therefore it will not bloom.
If we do not have an area of the house where we never turn on the lights we can overcome this inconvenience by remembering every day to cover our plant with a dark bag, to then discover it in the morning, leaving it without cover only in the middle hours of the day.
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