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Volume 13, Issue 49 ~ December 8 - December 14, 2005

The Bay Gardener

By Dr. Frank Gouin

The Ideal Christmas Plant

Don’t let poison myths scare you from celebrating the holidays with poinsettia

The brightly colored bracts and dark green leaves of poinsettias make them the ideal Christmas plants. Varieties are better now than ever before. Not only are they available in many shades of red, white, pink and speckled, they retain their bracts and leaves longer with minimal care.

But are poinsettia plants poisonous?

That’s a myth that should have been laid to rest back in the 1980s. At Kansas State University, latex from the plants was put on the skin of mice and rabbits, and dogs, rats and mice were fed high levels of pulverized leaves, stems, bracts and flowers of poinsettia in their regular food. The studies conclusively demonstrated that poinsettia plants do not contain toxins.

But in a local daily paper just last year, a veterinarian warned readers to keep poinsettia plants away from all pets. A week later, a similar notice was published by a pediatrician.

It’s nonsense. There has never been a reported case of poinsettia poisoning, according to the Poison Control Center.

So don’t be afraid to decorate for the holidays with poinsettia plants.

To keep your poinsettia fresh looking, never allow it to wilt. The growing medium in each pot should be checked daily for adequate moisture. Press your finger into the medium half-way between the stem of the plant and the wall of the pot. If the medium feels cool and moist, there is adequate moisture. If the medium feels warm and dry, water thoroughly.

Always add water until it flows through the bottom of the pot. If water flows immediately through, the medium is too dry to absorb water. Soak the pot in a basin or pail of warm water for 30 minutes to an hour. Drain the plant before returning it to its place of honor.

Avoid overwatering the plants. Poinsettia roots are very susceptible to rot; keeping the growing medium saturated can cause root rot. A large pot with several poinsettia will require watering more often than a pot with only one plant.

The branches you break while watering and carrying make excellent cut flowers — providing you dip the stem in boiling water immediately after taking it from the mother plant to seal the latex in the broken or cut stem. Otherwise it will ooze out, causing the flower to wilt within days.

Dip about one inch of the stem’s base into boiling water and withdraw immediately. Sufficient water can still be absorbed by the walls of the sealed stem to keep the bracts and flowers fresh and turgid. Adding Floral-Life to the water of the vase will also help. Floral-Life contains a bactericide and glucose sugar. The bactericide retards the growth of bacteria that cause cut surfaces of stems to clog. The glucose sugar helps the leaves, which cannot photosynthesize efficiently, remain green longer.

A poinsettia bouquet properly prepared and cared for should last two to three weeks.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at frgouin@erols.com. All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

© COPYRIGHT 2004 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.