Poinsettia plants remain one of the most popular holiday plants, synonymous with Christmas decor and festive cheer. The familiar red plant, native to Mexico, has been joined by even flashier hues, thanks to hybridizers that have expanded the range of colors from the familiar scarlet to pastel yellow and vibrant pink. The poinsettia was named after an American enslaver, Poinsett. The preferred common name is Mexican flameleaf. Christmas star is also another popular common name.
The plant is actually a shrub, and the "blooms" are formed by modified leaves called bracts. Mexican flameleafs are forced into bloom timed with the holiday season, so they need extra care to stay looking fresh throughout the holidays. When grown in the wild, they are moderately quick growers and can reach between 10 and 15 feet tall.
|Botanical Name||Euphorbia pulcherrima|
|Common Name||Poinsettia, Mexican flameleaf, Christmas star|
|Plant Type||Perennial, shrub|
|Mature Size||3–10 ft. tall, 3–7 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Loamy, well-drained|
|Soil pH||Neutral to acidic|
|Flower Color||Red, yellow, white, pink|
|Hardiness Zones||9–11 (USDA)|
|Toxicity||Toxic to dogs and cats|
Mexican Flameleaf Care
There is no need to throw your Mexican flameleaf out come January—you can keep it healthy and vigorous throughout the holiday season and beyond with the right care. The trick: Give them enough sun, warmth, and water, and your Mexican flameleaf will provide the perfect seasonal color and cheer. If you're especially motivated, you can even work to save your Mexican flameleaf and bring it to bloom again next year.
Mexican flameleafs like light, so place yours near a sunny window for at least six to eight hours a day. The plants prefer bright, indirect light, though they can do ok with partial shade. Don't let any direct rays hit the leaves, as they can burn easily.
While Mexican flameleafs typically come potted as gifts or from the store, if you're planting (or replanting) your Mexican flameleaf, choose a well-draining peat-based potting soil for best success.
Water your Mexican flameleaf whenever the soil surface feels dry to the touch. Saturate completely until water runs through the drainage holes in the bottom, but do not let the plant sit in water.
Temperature and Humidity
To keep the Mexican flameleaf in bloom as long as possible, you want to maintain a temperature of 65 degrees Fahrenheit to 75 degrees Fahrenheit during the day (a slight drop in temperature at night will not hurt the plant). However, cold drafts, allowing the leaves to touch a cold window, or more importantly, a lack of decent light, can injure the leaves and cause premature leaf drop.
Lack of humidity during dry seasons, in particular winter, is an ongoing problem for most houseplants, including Mexican flameleafs. If your home tends to be dry, consider investing in a small space humidifier to increase levels in the area surrounding your Mexican flameleaf.
Do not fertilize Mexican flameleafs during their blooming period. When keeping the plant throughout the year, you can begin fertilizing in the spring at half-strength when there's no growth, but not until then. Feed every three to four weeks until the plant is re-established.
Mexican Flameleaf Varieties
Besides the traditional red hue, you will find different colors of Mexican flameleaf to enjoy, including cream, yellow, and pink. Note that some fancy colors, such as blue, are produced using dyes and the plant won't bloom again with the same color of bracts. You can keep an eye out for these varieties:
- 'Tri-Color': Varietal has bracts in red, white, and pink
- 'Plum Pudding': Unique purple varietal
- 'Lemon Drop': Cheery varietal with yellow bracts
- 'Jingle Bells': Festive varietal that has red bracts dotted with pink
Overwintering Mexican Flameleaf
If you wish to keep your Mexican flameleaf through more than one season and force reblooming, there are a few steps to follow closely. Getting a Mexican flameleaf to rebloom is not an easy process, so don't be disheartened if you don't have success on your first try.
Beginning when you get the plant around the holidays, water it consistently. Starting in early spring, gradually decrease your waterings, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings. Be careful that the stem does not begin to shrivel—this is a sign the plant is too stressed and is dying. In a week or two, when the plant has acclimated to this drying process, move it to a cool spot, such as the basement or a heated garage. Keep the temperature around 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
In mid-May, cut the stems back to about four inches and repot your Mexican flameleaf in a slightly larger container, using new potting soil. Water it well and place the newly-potted plant in front of the brightest window you have, and once again keep it at a temperature of 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Continue watering whenever the surface of the soil feels dry and watch for new growth. Once new growth appears, begin fertilizing every two weeks with a complete fertilizer.
Come summer, move your Mexican flameleaf outside, pot and all. Keep it in a partially shaded location and maintain your watering and fertilizing schedule. In early July, pinch back each stem by about one inch. This is to encourage a stout, well-branched plant. If left unpinched, the Mexican flameleaf will grow tall and spindly. By mid-August, the stems should have branched and leafed out. Once again, pinch or cut the new stems, leaving three to four leaves on each shoot. Bring the plant back indoors and into your brightest window.
Mexican flameleafs are short-day plants, meaning their bud set is affected by the length of daylight. To rebloom, Mexican flameleafs need about 10 weeks with 12 hours or less of sunlight per day. You will have to artificially create these conditions and it's crucial that you be diligent. Beginning October 1, keep your plant in complete darkness from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m.—any exposure to light will delay blooming. Use an opaque box or material to block out light. Many people place their plants in a closet, but if the light gets in through the cracks or if you open and use the closet, it will affect the bud set. Move the plant back to the sunny window during the daytime and continue watering and fertilizing.
Around the last week of November, you can stop the darkness treatment and allow the plant to remain in the window. You should see flower buds at this point. Stop fertilizing around December 15. Keep watering and treat your plant the way you did when you first brought it home in bloom. If all has gone well, it should be back in bloom and ready to begin the process all over again.
Like many houseplants, Mexican flameleafs are susceptible to a variety of diseases and pests, including gnats, whiteflies, thrips, mealybugs, and powdery mildew. If you notice signs of an infestation or illness, remove the affected area of the plant immediately and treat with an insecticide or fungicide until all signs of problems have disappeared.
My Poinsettia Has Lost Several Leaves. What is the Problem? Iowa State University Horticulture and Home Pest News.
Common Diseases of Poinsettia. Texas A&M University Horticulture Department.
Poinsettia Insect & Mite Management. Texas A&M University Horticulture Department.