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Growing and caring for poinsettia

Quick facts

  • Poinsettias bloom when the days get shorter.
  • The colorful “flowers” of poinsettias are actually modified leaves called “bracts.”
  • Poinsettias grow well in moist soil and temperatures between 65 and 70 degrees F.
  • They can be grown outdoors during summer.
  • Poinsettias are not poisonous, but the sap may cause dermatitis.
A poinsettia plant with bright red leaves in a glossy brown pot
The traditional red poinsettia
Pink leaves of a poinsettia plant
Bracts and flower of a poinsettia plant

Native to Mexico, poinsettias are in the Euphorbia family and are a popular holiday plant because of their colorful bracts (leaves). There is also a species that is used as a cut flower. They are most commonly used for decorating during the winter holidays, but are also attractive as green plants throughout the year.

Poinsettias change color in response to shorter winter days. Poinsettia flowers are actually made up of the bracts, which look like petals, and the tiny yellow flowers in the center, called cyathia. The colorful bracts attract insects to the flowers and will drop after pollination.

Poinsettias are not harmful to animal or human health. But they should not be eaten.

  • The sticky white sap can cause a skin rash, so gloves are recommended when working with these plants.
  • Avoid contact with eyes and mouth.
  • Wash tools well after use as the sap can make tools sticky.
A collage of four images with poinsettia plants of different colors (red, striped red, blue, red and pink)
Poinsettias with a variety of patterns and colors

Poinsettias come in many colors

You can find poinsettias around the holidays to fit into almost any decorative scheme. They range from creamy white to pink to the traditional bright red. Some varieties have bracts with patterns in red and white, pink and white, or green and white and even bright orange.

Flower forms vary as well with some looking similar to a rose. You will also find unusually colored poinsettias such as blue or purple in garden centers. These are cream-colored varieties that are spray painted. They are sometimes sprinkled with glitter.

    Growing poinsettias

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    Julie Weisenhorn, Extension educator, Horticulture

    Acknowledgments

    Neil O. Anderson, professor of horticultural science, UMN College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, and Leonard Perry, Extension professor, University of Vermont reviewed this content. 

    Reviewed in 2018

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