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You can choose the perfect poinsettia plants

The poinsettia is the most popular holiday flowering plant. The plant’s common name comes from Joel Poinsett, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico. He introduced this plant to the U.S. in 1825.

In its native Guatemala and southern Mexico, poinsettias are large shrubs or small trees. The showy flowers are actually a combination of bracts and cyathia. The bracts, which are modified leaves, appear to be colorful petals and the cyathia, which are true flowers, create the yellow center.

When shopping for poinsettias, look for a full robust plant with deep green leaves completely down the stem. Yellow or damaged leaves may indicate poor handling or a disease problem that will limit the life span of the plant. Check the plant from all sides. It should be well balanced with thick, stout stems.

After choosing the perfect plant, protect it from the cold during the trip home with paper or plastic. Tropical poinsettias are easily injured by our cold weather this time of year.

In the home, position your poinsettia near a bright sunny window. East, south or west exposures are the best. Do not let any plant parts touch the cold windowpane because the cold temperature will damage them.

Poinsettias prefer temperatures of 65-70 degrees. Higher temperatures will cause the leaves to yellow and fall, and the bracts to fade early. Temperatures below 50 degrees will cause leaf drop. Keep poinsettias out of cold drafts and away from heating sources.

Check the soil surface daily. If the surface is dry, water the plant thoroughly. You’ll know you added enough when water comes out of the drain holes at the bottom of the pot. If the pot is in a saucer or decorative foil, always drain the excess water in the saucer or foil to prevent root rot. Do not allow the soil to dry out or the poinsettia will wilt and loose its leaves.

The wide variety of sizes and colors in poinsettias make them the perfect holiday decoration whether in the home or office. With care, your lovely plant should brighten your home for many months.

Rebecca Bates is an MSU Extension-Lincoln County agent, and can be reached at 601-835-3460 or by e-mail at rebecca.bates@msstate.edu.