The Christmas Star
They are one of the most typical plants used for Christmas, although not many know that they come from far away; the poinsettia, also known as Poinsettia, is a plant of Mexican origin, introduced as an ornamental plant first in the United States, already during the 1800s. It became one of the symbols of Christmas even in Europe only since the 70s - ' 80 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 thickets. The foliage is dark, thin and rough, broad and with a jagged margin; during the autumn and winter months at the apex of the young branches large inflorescences develop, consisting of very small, yellowish, star-shaped flowers, under which the plant shows large bracts, often larger than the leaves, of bright red color, which are evidently highlighted by the dark foliage. To better spread its cultivation as houseplants, hybrids of small dimensions, which do not exceed 40-50 cm in height and width, have been produced over the years; although in general the plants grown in the apartment reach a maximum of one meter. There are also varieties with bracts of the most varied colors, from white to pink, from orange to variegated pink.
Why is an "exotic" plant at Christmas?
The red color of the bracts of poinsettias lends itself well to adorn the houses during the Christmas period, since this color over the years has become the very symbol of Christmas; red is the dress of Santa Claus, red the berries of ornamental plants traditionally used, red the decorations of the Christmas fir. The fact that this plant tends to bloom precisely in autumn and winter has quickly spread its use, given also the ease with which new specimens can be produced, through reproduction by cutting. The legend of two small Mexican babies is also told, who could not bring gifts to the crib of their town, they brought simple branches of the shrubs near their home; as soon as the branches rested on the crib they revealed large colored flowers, which embellished the entire crib.
This legend is certainly linked to the Christmas tradition, which would see simple gifts, candles and colored ribbons as welcome gifts, since it is the thought that counts and not the gift itself.
In reality, as is the case for most plants used during the holidays, what makes them the symbol of a party over time is the simple fact that during that time of the year these plants are in bloom, or bear berries, or are easily available. The same European tradition in fact uses the typical holly, fir, butcher's broom, or all the plants of the forest that in this period are more beautiful and luxuriant as typical plants of the end of winter festivals.
Do we throw it away after flowering?
How many of us received a beautiful Euphorbia pulcherrima at Christmas, and after a couple of weeks they had to throw it because it is completely without foliage. This small shrub is actually not that difficult to grow; following some precautions we will be able to enjoy the beautiful foliage throughout the year, and see the new inflorescences for several winters to follow.
Consider first of all however that our Euphorbia pulcherrima surely comes from a nursery where it was quickly cultivated and nourished to make sure that it was ready for us as soon as possible; so let's try to make our plant get 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. Seeing then that when they give it to us is in the full of its development let's remember to provide it with a fertilizer for flowering plants, throughout the 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 place it in a fairly bright place, but away from direct heat sources and from the windows we open more often.
When the large colored bracts begin to wither we prune the branches that carried them for at least ten centimeters, avoiding to get dirty with the latex contained in the branches; in fact all the euphorbiaceae release a toxic latex during pruning, which can also irritate the skin; if we get dirty, let's wash ourselves immediately under running water.
At the beginning of spring we repot our Christmas star by transferring it to a container a little bigger than the previous one, filled with fresh and light soil, slightly acid.
In summer we can place the plant outdoors, even in the hills where it receives a few hours of direct sunlight a day; in winter instead we will have to leave it at home, as it fears frost, and generally prefers temperatures above 10-14 ° C.
Christmas star - Euphorbia pulcherrima: To see the flowers again
Poinsettias are a little bit particular plants; most flowering plants begin to produce buds when the days are quite long, ie in spring and summer. Unlike these, the Christmas stars begin to produce buds when the days get shorter, ie in autumn and winter. If we managed to cultivate a poinsettia all summer and we want to see it again in bloom, let's place it in an area of the house where it receives at most 7-8 hours of daylight, 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 a 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 remedy this inconvenience by reminding us every day to cover our plant with a dark bag, to then discover it in the morning, leaving it without coverage only in the central hours of the day.