There is nothing finer than the sight of a poinsettia blooming naturally. The hot red colour of its bracts never fail to liven and its famous red and green foliage has become an important part of Christmas tradition. But did you know that in Australia the poinsettia is artificially coaxed into its flamboyant floral displays for Christmas, preferring to flower in the winter months!
Short days, red flowers
The red pigmentation of the bracts is triggered by the shorter periods of sunlight that the plant experiences during the winter months. If you would like to make your poinsettia flower at Christmas, this is actually quite easy to do. Plants grown in tubs or pots can be moved indoors by mid November to produce their trademark red and green foliage in time for Christmas festivities. A similar result can be achieved with plants grown in the garden by covering them with a large blanket. Try it and see!
Did you know?
What we see as the ‘flowers’ of the poinsettia are actually ‘bracts’ or clusters of coloured leaves — the real flowers are insignificant and found in the centre of each of these clusters.
In the tropics…
In the tropics, poinsettias will shed their green leaves when flowering. In subtropical and warm temperate regions however, the green leaves will remain on the bush, giving the poinsettia its distinctive red and green Christmas colour scheme.
In cooler climates…
Although they originate from the tropics and subtropics, poinsettias will grow happily as far south as Woolongong in NSW. A full sun position and protection from wind and frost will help, though. They will also benefit from a fertile, well drained soil.
Give poinsettias a good pruning after they finish flowering. This will encourage larger flowers and more compact growth. A rather leggy-looking small tree in its natural state, regular pruning will keep it bushy. Beware that it will ooze a white, sticky sap when injured which can cause an allergic reaction in many people, so use gloves and wash hands after pruning.