Tis the season ... For poinsettias
Poinsettias are traditionally the quintessential Yuletide flowering plants that hold a nostalgic place in many hearts throughout the Christmas season. Grown for their brightly coloured bracts (the part of a plant that may resemble a leaf or a petal), poinsettias are popular Christmas decorations in homes, churches, offices, and elsewhere across North America and the Caribbean.
The coloured bracts are often mistaken for flower petals because of their groupings and colours, but are actually coloured leaves. The actual flowers of a poinsettia are the yellow button-like buds in the centre of the brilliantly coloured bracts.
While the poinsettia provide a radiant backdrop during this season, many persons are curious about its colours. According to Geoffrey Shields - of Shields & Shields, a leading pioneer in the development of Jamaica's Horticultural Industry - the colours of the bracts are created through photoperiodism, meaning that they require darkness 12 hours at a time for at least five days in a row to change colour.
"Poinsettias flower naturally at Christmas because they need long nights to flower and short nights to grow. None will flower if they do not get the long-night treatment," Shields said.
It can be quite a tedious process if you are really not into gardening because at the same time, the plants require abundant light during the day for the brightest colour. They should be kept in temperatures from 60?F to 70?F in an area free from either hot or cold drafts. The soil can dry out slightly between watering, but avoid overwatering as the roots could rot if these flowers sit in puddles of water.
According to Shields, the coloured poinsettias represent 10 per cent of actual sales, while the red colour still represents 90 per cent of production and sales. Shields indicated that numerous other breeds have come on the scene, so there are many in terms of variety and colours.
"Poinsettias come in a wide range of colours, including solid colours like red, maroon, red-purple, white, peach, and pale yellow. Many other varieties include speckled, striped, or splotched colours. No matter what colours you choose, however, there are many creative and attractive ways to decorate with poinsettias," Shields said.
The plants typically reach a height of 0.6-4 meters (2ft 0in-13ft 1in). The plant bears dark-green dentate (teeth-like or serrated) leaves that measure 7-16 centimetres (2.8-6.3 in) in length.
There are many ways to decorate with these beautiful plants, and with a bit of creativity, poinsettias can be part of all your holiday adornments. To keep the blooms of both the flowers and bracts fresh and strong, choose plants that also have abundant green leaves at the base and where no pollen is falling from the flowers. Swap a poinsettia's standard plastic pot for a basket lined with moss. You can hang it inside or out for a unique Christmas display.
Caring for poinsettias
n With care, the poinsettia can be induced to reflower after the holiday season has passed. The plant should have its colourful bracts pruned and should be given only minimal water and moderate indoor light.
n It will grow if not kept too moist in well-drained soil. The leaves are also prone to scorching when first brought outside, so the plant should be initially be kept in total shade, gradually relocating it to a sunnier position as the summer approaches.
n When not in absolute darkness, however, it should be given as much sunlight as can be provided. The plant requires this daily period of uninterrupted long, dark nights followed by bright sunny days for around two months in autumn in order to encourage it to develop coloured bracts.
n Any incidental light during these nights (from a nearby television set, from under a door frame, even from passing cars or street lights) will hamper bract production.
n When watering, it is important to always allow the plant to drain out any excess water too much moisture will quickly encourage mould, fungus, and root rot and is among the most common causes of unintentional death of new plants.
Poinsettias need bright, but filtered light, away from strong sun and draughts. They need a minimum temperature of 13-15?C (55-59?F).
n Sometimes a poinsettia will start wilting once you get it home, and continue to deteriorate, no matter what you do. This could be due to the plant having been stored in cold conditions in the shop before you bought it. Unfortunately there is little you can do about this. Buying plants from reputable suppliers is recommended.
n Only water when the surface of the compost has begun to dry out. The flowering life of plants is extended by humidity, so mist plants regularly.
n Feed monthly with a low nitrogen, high potassium fertiliser.
n From November onwards, plants should be put in a dark room after 12 hours of daylight and protected from artificial light sources.
Shields & Shields have pioneered the growing, promotion and marketing of numerous aspects of Jamaican horticulture. From its Garden Center at 1223/4 Barbican Road, the company wholesales and retails garden and potted plants from its greenhouses as well as fresh-cut flowers.