- Associated Press - Sunday, December 21, 2014

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - Poinsettia plants are a popular way to deck the halls at Christmas time, but these tropical plants suffer from some common misconceptions.

Its botanical name is Euphorbia pulcherrima, and while it grows naturally in Mexico and Central America as a shrub, it is usually an ornamental potted plant in the United States.

The colored areas are often mistaken for flowers, but they are actually specialized or modified leaves called bracts, the Rapid City Journal (https://bit.ly/1wDzFcd ) reported.

The flowers, called the cyathea, are the small yellow parts in the center of the bracts and are the poinsettia’s reproductive component.

The plant blooms when the bracts develop their color, which happens around Christmas in the Northern Hemisphere.

“They are photoperiodic sensitive, meaning that day length is what triggers bract production,” said Scott Sime, production manager at Jolly Lane Greenhouse. “The autumnal equinox is when they transfer from leaf production to bract production. In the Southern Hemisphere, it’s out of season (at Christmas).”

Poinsettias were brought to the United States in 1825 by the first ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett.

The original plant developed red bracts but it has been bred to produce pink, white, cream, lemon, plum, marbled and bi-colored varieties. Other colors can be achieved by spraying a dye on the bracts.

“The blues and the purples, since they are not available naturally, are probably the ones that I do the most of,” Sime said.

But it’s the plant’s original color, and the traditional Christmas colors, red with green leaves, that are the most popular, according to Sime.

“Probably 60 percent of my production is red,” he said.

Sime has been growing poinsettias for about 37 years. He produces about 5,000 plants a year, starting in the summer.

“They are a fairly lengthy crop,” said Sime. “I usually get my first shipment about the Fourth of July. So these plants have been in production since June because I get them as a rooted cutting, about 3 inches tall with the root system on and those cuttings are probably three to four weeks old. So, it’s a six-month crop.”

In order for the bracts to develop their bright colors, the plant needs 12 hours of complete darkness and 12 hours of light starting at the autumnal equinox in September.

Different varieties have different response times and the flowering season can be manipulated by lighting the plants at night to delay blooming or shading or “black clothing” them during the day to get an earlier bloom.

The size of the plant depends on when it is planted.

“The larger the finished plant, the earlier you plant them. I do a two-inch size up to a 10-inch size,” Sime said. “The bigger I want it, the earlier I have to plant it, because they all start flowering at that same time.”

Some varieties have brittle bracts and can’t be mass-produced because they don’t do well with shipping. Most people throw their potted poinsettia away after the holiday season, though they can be reflowered.

“It’s possible, but it’s very difficult,” said Sime. “One of the biggest reasons is low light levels in the home environment. It’s hard to reproduce the habit that they have.”

Perhaps the biggest misconception about the poinsettia is that if eaten it is toxic to people and animals.

“That’s a myth,” Sime said. “There have been several studies done. It was associated with an incident where there was a death of a young man and it was wrongfully associated (with poinsettias) but it continued.

And Sime is willing to conduct his own study to bust this myth.

“I’ve always thought about getting a bottle of Ranch dressing and eating it in a salad just so I could prove it,” he said.

___

Information from: Rapid City Journal, https://www.rapidcityjournal.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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