Poin­set­tias add beauty and tra­di­tion at Christ­mas

The Sacramento Bee - - Home & Garden - BY NOR­MAN WIN­TER Tri­bune News Ser­vice

Black Fri­day turned out to be a real shocker for me. It wasn’t for store fight­ing, su­per dis­counts on large TV’s or dig­i­tal cam­eras but, in­stead, it was the rush to buy poin­set­tias. I was sur­prised that poin­set­tias made the “lost leader” list, sim­i­larly, to the 39-cents-per­pound tur­key at Thanks­giv­ing. Se­condly, I was just as shocked that the con­sumers were will­ing to wait out­side the store at 5 a.m. to buy huge quan­ti­ties of poin­set­tias.

I bet Joel Roberts Poinsett, our first Am­bas­sador to Mex­ico and the one cred­ited with first bring­ing them into the United States in 1825, would have been ab­so­lutely stunned. All I can say is “yippee ya­hoo” be­cause that means the door is opened up even wider for max­i­miz­ing their use dur­ing the long Christ­mas sea­son which I might add seems to be get­ting longer ev­ery year.

The last few years I have had the op­por­tu­nity to be a part of max­i­miz­ing their use in mas­sive dis­plays cre­ated at the Coastal Geor­gia Botan­i­cal Gar­dens as part of their De­cem­ber Nights and Hol­i­day Lights cel­e­bra­tion. The use of poin­set­tias was dif­fer­ent ev­ery year and al­ways brought out the cam­eras.

No mat­ter how you choose to use them, in com­bi­na­tion with Red De­li­cious and Granny Smith ap­ples like in Sa­van­nah, fes­tively ar­ranged on the hearth and fire­place man­tel, or around the tree, the poin­set­tia is one of the most trea­sured Christ­mas tra­di­tions.

The tra­di­tion started long ago when they were called Flores de Noche Buena (flow­ers of the holy night) be­cause of the le­gend of Pepita and Pe­dro. The story told long ago was that a lit­tle girl in Mex­ico, named Pepita, and her cousin, Pe­dro, were on their way to church in honor of the Christ child. Pepita was poor and had no money for gifts.

On the way to church she picked a bou­quet of wild­flow­ers, and as she laid them lov­ingly on the al­tar, they turned into beau­ti­ful poin­set­tias, hence the name Flores de Noche Buena.

The col­or­ful parts of a poin­set­tia are ac­tu­ally mod­i­fied leaves known as bracts. The true flow­ers are the small, yel­low but­tons in the cen­ters of the bracts. The tra­di­tional color may be red but col­ors and va­ri­eties to­day have reached stag­ger­ing num­bers. One re­cent Univer­sity trial showed 212 va­ri­eties on dis­play.

If you are like me, we are sim­i­lar kids in a candy store when it comes to poin­set­tias; we love them all and need three of each. Its kind of like give me some Monet, Ice Punch, ooh that ele­gant Vi­sion of Grandeur, then I need 7 of the Carousel and 5 of the Win­ter Rose.

You quickly see the dilemma both for the shop­per and the green­house pro­ducer with hun­dreds of va­ri­eties, there is just no way one could grow them all. What is im­por­tant is that you shop for poin­set­tias now. Poin­set­tias can hold their color, way past Christ­mas if

you shop wisely.

Look for plants with fully ma­ture, thor­oughly col­ored and ex­panded bracts, and small green flower buds. Se­lect plants with dark green fo­liage down to the soil line. This in­di­cates a healthy root sys­tem. As a rule of thumb, poin­set­tias should be 2 1/2 times big­ger than their pots. In other words, a 15- to 18-inch-tall plant looks best in a 6-inch con­tainer.

Durable plants prom­ise weeks of en­joy­ment. Look for strong, stiff stems, good leaf and bract re­ten­tion, and no signs of wilt­ing, break­ing or droop­ing. Care­fully in­spect pack­aged poin­set­tias be­fore pur­chas­ing them. With the busy hol­i­day sea­son, for­get­ting to wa­ter can be dis­as­trous for a poin­set­tia. Feel the soil, and wa­ter when it is dry to the touch.

Don’t be shy use poin­set­tias through­out the home and don’t be sur­prised when the fam­ily says Mom this was the pret­ti­est Christ­mas ever.

NOR­MAN WIN­TER TNS

Group sev­eral poin­set­tias to­gether for a showy dis­play.

NOR­MAN WIN­TER TNS

Use poin­set­tias through out the home for the most beau­ti­ful Christ­mas ever.

NOR­MAN WIN­TER TNS

Ice Punch poin­set­tia daz­zles with its var­ie­gated fo­liage.

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