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The New World is represented in Christmas legend by only one plant, the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima).

Also known by its beautiful Spanish name of flor de nochebuena, or "flower of Christmas Eve," the poinsettia is indigenous to Central America and tropical Mexico. The story goes that a poor Mexican child on her way to church on Christmas Eve wept because she had no gift to place before the altar of the Virgin and Child. Through her tears, an angel suddenly appeared and instructed her to gather weeds from the roadside. When the child arrived at the altar with her wilted offering, starry crimson "blossoms" burst forth from every stem.

During the 14th - 16th century the sap was used to control fevers and the bracts (modified leaves) were used to make a reddish dye. Montezuma, the last of the Aztec kings, would have poinsettias brought into what now is Mexico City by caravans. Poinsettias could not be grown there because of the cooler temperatures.

Joel Roberts Poinsett was the first United States Ambassador to Mexico being appointed by President Andrew Jackson in the 1820's. He took cuttings from the plant and brought them back to his greenhouse in South Carolina. While Poinsett had an outstanding career as a United States Congressman and Mexican Ambassador, he is best remembered for introducing the poinsettia into the United States.

The poinsettia's brilliant seasonal display is actually produced by colored bracts surrounding the real flowers, which appear as an insignificant cluster of yellow berries called "cyathia." The petal-like bracts are modified leaves located at the junction of the flower stalks and main stem. In November and December, these turn vivid shades of red in response to the longer nights.

Fertilize the poinsettia if you keep it past the holiday season.Apply a houseplant fertilizer once a month. Cut the stems back to 4 to 6 inches in February to promote new growth. In May, repot it to a larger container. Once nightly temperatures stay above 60 degrees F, you can move it outside. Turn the plant to keep it full and minimize root growth outside the pot. Bring it indoors before nighttime temperatures dip below 55 degrees F. You should also stop fertilizing it at this time.

Coloring of the bracts and flowering is induced by shortening thephotoperiod (day length). From late September to December 1, theplant should be kept in total darkness between 5 PM and 8 AM. The plant should initiate flowering and start to show some color. After December 1, your poinsettia can be left out and enjoyed through the holidays. If this sounds like too much work, then support the green industry by purchasing new plants each year!

Water needs. Water thoroughly when the soil is dry to the touch. Poke some holes in the fancy wrappers to allow excess water to drain. (Tip: Perforating the bottom of wrappers on all containers swathed in foil will help any gift plant, no matter what type, survive the holidays better.) Soggy roots from standing in water will definitely cause poinsettias to drop their leaves and bracts. Fertilizer isn't needed now.

Warmth and no drafts.Poinsettias require warmth. (A chilled plant will drop its leaves.) The temperature range that keeps them happiest is about 72-75 degrees during the day and 65 degrees at night.


Poinsetta

Extending Christmas Joy with a Poinsettia!The poinsettia combines red and green, the colors of Christmas, and if you care for yours carefully it can extend the holiday cheer well into the new year. Since the poinsettia was first known in the 16th century it has been associated with Christmas.

Christmas Plants Rooted in Centuries-old Histories and Traditions Each Christmas decorated trees, twinkling lights and familiar carols take center stage in creating a festive holiday atmosphere.
National Poinsettia Cultivar Trials - established in an effort to bring a thorough body of research and information to poinsettia growers across the country. Includes photographs of a number of poinsettia verities.
Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet Horticulture and Crop Science Poinsettia Care in the Home
Gardenersnet's.com care and maintenance tips.
Roxy's Poinsettia Borders and Backgrounds
Poinsettia History and Lore
The Poinsettia Pages Learn about poinsettia history, facts, selection, care, and reflowering.
Poinsettia FAQ
Texas Poinsettia Producers Guide A guide prepared to assist commercial poinsettia producers in Texas.

Growing Cyclamen Indoors Keep it cool and follow these simple instructions to care for this delightfully different holiday favorite.

Christmas Cactus

Care of Christmas Cactus Since Grandma's day, the Christmas cactus has been a favorite houseplant. ... In September and October, Christmas cactus plants should be kept in a cool ...

How to grow Christmas Cactus. ... Christmas Cactus have been kept as a holiday plant since the 1800's. Early breeders crossed Schlumbergera truncata with ...

Care of Christmas Cactus Important After Holidays From Purdue University.

Christmas Cactus information on all aspects of the plant and its care, from Virginia Cooperative Extension.

Christmas Cactus Care and Information

Mistletoe!
European MistletoeThis fact sheet provides basic information about the herbA plant or part of a plant used for its flavor, scent, or potential therapeutic properties. Includes flowers, leaves, bark, fruit, seeds, stems, and roots. European mistletoe--common names, uses, potential side effects, and resources for more information. European mistletoe is a semiparasitic plant that grows on several types of trees in temperate regions worldwide. Where the term "mistletoe" is used in this fact sheet, it refers to European mistletoe. (European mistletoe is different from American mistletoe, which is used as a holiday decoration.

The Mistletoe Pages This nontechnical site, maintained by Jonathan Briggs (Gloucestershire, England), aims to provide some background on all aspects of mistletoes - their biology, traditions, use in medicine etc.

The Mistletoe Center This site will allow searches of the large database on mistletoe literature.

What Does Mistletoe Have To Do With Christmas? APSNet feature article by Frank Tainter

Botanical.com: Mistletoe features mistletoe description, history, medicinal uses, and constituents.

Mistletoe its history, meaning and traditions From the earliest times mistletoe has been one of the most magical, mysterious, and sacred plants of European folklore.

Not Just for Kissing: Mistletoe and Birds, Bees, and Other Beasts
Perhaps some of you have already experienced a sweet holiday smooch or two under the Christmas mistletoe, enjoying this fairly old kissing ritual for people. But mistletoe is important in other vital ways:

Mistletoe Offering a brief history of mistletoe along with its uses and mythology. Also features photos of the parasitic plant.

How Stuff Works: How Mistletoe Works Describes what mistletoe is, ancient beliefs, and gives a brief history.