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Poinsettias at Center Stage: Introducing The Origin, Styling and Upkeep of a Holiday Starlet

*Theater curtains open slowly*

female standing amongst Poinsettias in a greenhouse
Joyfully standing downstage right, I took my place as supporting cast to my lovely leads.

As eyes focus center stage, allow me to introduce you to one floral sensation deserving of her moment in lights: the Poinsettia. With over 42 million of these tropical (yes, tropical!) treasures projected to be sold over the holidays, this undisputed seasonal starlet is contributing over $215 million to the U.S. economy at the retail level (according to the USDA); stealing the spotlight as the largest potted flower crop grown in the United States!

Playbill Director's Note

Before we start the show, might we give a round of applause to our dear friends at Bachman's Floral and Garden for sponsoring all four acts of today's performance (where I pranced downstage amongst 85,000* Poinsettias within their Lakeville, Minnesota greenhouses!)! Talk about a star-studded set. With that, let the enchantment begin!

*There were over 4,000 Poinsettias in the first greenhouse I stood in, alone!

Act 1: The Origin Story

A greenhouse filled with Poinsettias
Compliments to the Set Designer for this stunning Poinsettia array! I was in HEAVEN.

Straight away, we have a botanical drama unfolding on this horticultural stage: the layered origin story of the Cuetlaxóchitl, or "flower that withers" (now recognized by her common US stage name of Poinsettia). In a tropical plot twist, our floral star makes a grand entrance from southern Mexico, in the enchanting region of Taxco del Alarcon, first captivating audiences with vibrant bracts (leaves) and green foliage. *Looks back at Playbill and whispers...* did you see the University of Minnesota Extension note that Poinsettia flowers are actually comprised of bracts (frequently mistaken as colorful petals), and tiny greenish-yellow flowers in the center, called cyathia.?! Moreover, the vibrant-hued bracts attract insects to the cyathia flowers and drop after pollination. What intentional character development!

With our protagonist now introduced on stage, let's take in the grander scene as Joel Roberts Poinsett (1779–1851), the amateur botanist and inaugural United States ambassador to Mexico, discovers our botanical beauty during his travels in the 19th century. Sending cuttings of the plant back to his home in South Carolina, the Poinsettia's journey from the warm embrace of Mexico to the festive landscapes of holiday celebrations around the world is a theatrical tale of natural beauty and cultural intrigue, hence the global flora sensation. To award Mr. Poinsett's pivotal role, our vibrant holiday plant was aptly named after him, with Congress later declaring December 12 as National Poinsettia day in 2002.

With many adaptations of this tale, our latest character research (courtesy of the Almanac) detailed how the Nahua people discovered the remarkable properties of Poinsettias, turning them into invaluable resources for both practical and aesthetic purposes. The Poinsettia played a prominent part for the Aztecs, who harnessed their vibrant hues to craft a regal purple dye for clothing and cosmetics, leaving an indelible mark on the fashion and beauty practices of their time. These versatile plants also contributed to the Aztecs' medicinal knowledge. The milky white sap wax from poinsettias became a key ingredient in their medicinal repertoire, specifically utilized to concoct a potent medicine for treating fevers. What a riveting scene!

Act 2: Symbolism & Traditions

A greenhouse filled with poinsettias
The Poinsettia intermission I never knew I needed.

Dearest theatergoer, have you found yourself studying the playbill to understand the requited union between our starlet and Christmas? It’s entrance into the holiday season is a nod to both the full December blooms (as the days shorten during winter), and the ancient Aztec celebration of winter festivities where this tropical sensation stole the show; becoming an enduring symbol of warmth, purity, renewal, and merriment on a vibrant stage of cultural legacies.

Within the rich tapestry of tradition, the Poinsettia is woven into Mexican folklore as 'Flor de Nochebuena,' or the "Flower of the Holy Night". According to this legend, a young child named Pepita was not able to afford an offering for her church's Christmas Eve service, and instead gathers some weeds on her way, fashioning them into a humble bouquet. As the scene develops, Pepita places the bouquet at the altar, and the weeds miraculously transform into a colorful array of poinsettias! I've found that flora of all cultivars prominently find themselves in starring roles for their ability to evoke emotion, sentiment and personal connection from the toughest both the most difficult and most cherished of times.

Act 3: Made for Seasonal Style

multiple varieties of poinsettias
Did you know there are over 100 Poinsettia varieties?!

In this festively decorated production, we’ve found the Poinsettia to shine brightest in storied moments on mantels, tables, festive arrangements, and truly, anywhere where they can be *seen* in your dwelling's primary scene. Whether traditional red or in hues of pink, yellow, cream, purple, orange or green ( name a few); with over 100 varieties in rotation to choose from in this seasonal theater, the Poinsettia's rich symbolism of joy and love serve as a recognized visual crescendo, accentuating personal design interpretations.

While many come in holiday-forward foil, as the director of your show, you have the freedom to style in planters that coordinate with existing decor or arrangements. By surrounding them with supporting cast members – like warm string lights, colorfully curated ornaments, garland and holiday greenery – your stunning set immediately becomes award-worthy! Whether adorning your home or gifting to loved ones, let your Poinsettia be the show-stopping centerpiece, bringing a touch of natural elegance to the grand production of seasonal styling. I am on the edge of my seat to see what you do with this script!

Act 4: Caring for Poinsettias

Rows of thousands of poinsettias
Pictures will certainly never do this show proper justice!

Cue the spotlight on poinsettia care! When scouting for your Poinsettia, consider the cyathia (the tiny flowers at the center introduced in Act I) as the freshness indicator in this production. A vibrant cyathia promises a long-lasting show, but beware of the fully yellowed ones – they signal the plant has had its curtain call, and the bloom's grand performance is nearing it's end.

Close-up of cyathia blooms in Poinsettia
Can you spot the cyathia flowers at the bracts center?!

With the right set design (...or natural conditions), did you know that Poinsettias can grow up to 13 feet tall, taking on the character of a blooming shrub? While that would be a mesmerizing sight, this scene was created to ensure our botanical sensation may thrive in your homes as well as she does under the big (greenhouse) lights.

Speaking of lights, ensure you can provide bright-indirect light (around 6 hours of sunshine), daily. In addition to proper light, our starlet requires hydration to look her best as dry conditions will cause wilting. The poinsettia loves moist, well-draining soil but detests standing water, so keep the soil slightly damp without drowning (aka floating in excess water) if you don't appreciate a dramatic ending. From our extended show experience with the Poinsettia, might we recommend a weekly check-in to gauge needs, watering when the soil feels dry one to two inches down in the soil?

While you're checking in on your Poinsettia, also consider ensuring a steady temperature, as this leading lady prefers it between 65-75°F during her performance. This means you will not want to expose her to the winter elements or keep her in the car during extended holiday shopping! Upon her grand home entrance, shield your Poinsettia from chilly drafts, giving her the warm welcome she deserves.

As you've watched this storyline unfold, here is an additional plot twist that may have you reviewing the casting list: according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Poinsettias are toxic to pets due to an irritant in the sap. Unfortunately, furry friends do not see our Poinsettia as America's sweetheart, and can experience irritation to the mouth and stomach if a duet scene occurs. These are two actors I would not recommended having in close contact.

Equipped with this carefully choreographed care routine, your Poinsettia is sure to steal the show and hold the stage throughout the holiday season!

The Standing Ovation

joyous girl standing with arms up in front of poinsettias
That's all, folks! I'd say this show was a raving success!

As the final curtain falls on our protagonist, the Poinsettia takes a well-deserved bow; leaving an indelible mark on the hearts of holiday tradition. From her enchanting origin story to the symbolic richness added to our annual festivities, this floral darling has truly earned a storied role in the spotlight. As you bring this star into your home, may the symbolism of joy, love, and renewal unfold like a seamlessly executed scene. Now, as you decorate your space with the elegance of the Poinsettia, you'll now recognize that you're not just showcasing a common houseplant; you're staging a living testament to the timeless allure of nature's grand production. Bra-vo!

Until the next big show, big hugs!

xx Shayla


The Plant Penthouse is a flora-inspired interiors and lifestyle brand founded by Minnesota native, Shayla Owodunni. Since Shayla's early days as a boisterous kindergartner insistent on wearing neon knee-highs with brightly-printed dresses, curating vibrant juxtapositions (like a tropical oasis in Minneapolis) has become a joy-filled way of life.

Through plant care education, home décor inspiration and tastemaking tidbits, this is our residence to reimagine ‘posh’ penthouse concepts for life’s everyday moments—because here, we believe there is opulence to embrace in each dwelling space; regardless of size, location or circumstance.

Shayla has contributed to The Jason Show, Twin Cities Live, Artful Living, Mpls.St.Paul Magazine and Wit & Delight; with features by HGTV, HomeGoods, Apartment Therapy, Star Tribune, Midwest Home, Mercury Mosaics and The Wall Street Journal. *Annnnnnd, scene!*


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