Lynn Barber stands in front of a beautiful and quite large poinsettia, which is as tall as she is (5’2”).

I’ve written about other holiday plants, so it’s time to ‘speak to’ the traditional one, the Poinsettia. This holiday favorite was introduced in the United States in 1825 by Joel Poinsett, the ambassador to Mexico.

The classic Poinsettia is bright red, which is easier to establish for outdoor use than other colors. After much breeding, several other colors are available, including pink, peach, white, burgundy, yellow and marbled colors. What some think of as the flower is really the leaves, aka bracts. The actual flowers are the tiny clusters in the middle of the bracts. This is a ‘short day’ plant, meaning it blooms when days are short and nights are long. Blooming requires an extended period of darkness. If planted near artificial light, like a street light or exterior house lighting after October 1, there will be a flowering delay.

This tropical plant likes temperatures in the area of 75-80 degrees during the day and 65 degrees at night. Our temps range in that area and below right now.

Indoors, don’t fertilize or overwater. Give it a drink only when the soil is dry. Use the index finger test: put finger in soil up to the knuckle. If dry, water. If moist or wet, do not water. You can plant Poinsettia outside after the last chance of frost has passed, which is generally around mid-February.

Outdoors, it should be located in the sun and away from artificial light. Prune to four to six inches of stem on each branch; then fertilize monthly with a balanced fertilizer from March to October. This plant has received a bad reputation as being poisonous, but it’s not. There is a white, milky sap in the stem. But, if you are allergic to latex, you are probably better off not handling this plant.

For more information about this holiday gem, please see the University of Florida publication, Poinsettias at a Glance by Sydney Park Brown, at: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep349, from which this information was adapted.

For assistance with horticultural questions, call 744-5519 or visit us at the UF/IFAS Extension Hillsborough County, 5339 CR 579 in Seffner. Visit http://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/hillsborough/upc oming-events/.