Deck the Halls with jolly poinsettia

Makaleha Nursery was established in 2006. In June, owner Lyn Ubongan bought Growing Greens Nursery and combined the plants on her family’s 7-acre property off Kawaihau Road. The nursery also offers ornamental plants, herb and vegetable starts, and landscaping plants.

There are 5,000 poinsettias plants at Makaleha Nursery, consisting of five varieties including bright prestige red, deep red merlot poinsettia, burgundy colored euro red, white, and ice crystals with white centers that fade into bright red edges.

Plants will be available after Thanksgiving Day at the nursery as well as Home Depot, Kmart and Walmart. Four-inch pots are $7.50 and 6-inch pots are $9.

Poinsettia

The most popular Christmas season plant is the poinsettia, which is native to Mexico. They are found growing wild in tropical forests at moderate elevations from southern Sinaloa down the entire Pacific coast of Mexico to Chiapas and Guatemala. They are also found in the interior of Mexico in the hot, seasonally dry forests of Gurerro and Oxaca.

Aztecs called poinsettias “cuetlaxochitl” — cuitlatl, for residue, and xochitl, for flower, meaning “flower that grows in residues or soil.” Today, the plant is known in Mexico and Guatemala as “La Flor de la Nochebuena” (flower of the holy night, or Christmas Eve). In Chile and Peru, poinsettia is called “crown of the Andes” and in Spain, it is an Easter plant called “Flor de Pascua” or Easter flower.

A German botanist assigned the botanical name when a plant grew through a crack in his greenhouse. Dazzled by its color, he gave it the botanical name, Euphorbia pulcherrima, which means “very beautiful.”

Joel Roberts Poinsett was a botanist and the first United States Ambassador appointed to Mexico in the 1820s. As he wandered the countryside looking for new plant species, he found a beautiful shrub with large red flowers growing next to a road. He took cuttings from the plant and brought them back to his greenhouse in South Carolina, thus introducing it to the United States.

William Prescott, a historian and horticulturist, was asked to give Euphorbia pulcherrima a new name as it became more popular. Prescott published a book called the “Conquest of Mexico” in which he detailed Poinsett’s discovery of the plant. Prescott named the plant the poinsettia in honor of Poinsett’s discovery.

Intensive hybridization has produced hundreds of short, bushy varieties for indoor holiday decoration. In the early 1900s, the Ecke family of southern California grew poinsettias for use as landscape plants. Today, the family is recognized as the leading producer of poinsettias in the United States. “Prestige red” — one of many poinsettias patented by Ecke — ranks among the best-selling hybrids.

Poinsettia’s brilliant colors do not come from flowers. They are the plant’s bracts, which are modified leaves that are readily mistaken for flower petals. True flowers of the plant are the small, yellow buttons, called cyathia, which can be seen in the center of each rosette of colorful bracts.

Colors of the bracts are created through photoperiodism, meaning they require 12 hours of darkness for at least five days in a row. Once poinsettias finish that process, the plants require abundant light during the day for the brightest color.

Season:

Poinsettia are perennial flowering shrubs that can grow up to 10 feet tall. In November and December, when nights are longer, the bracts begin to form.

What to look for:

Choose a plant with dark green foliage and bracts that are completely colored. Avoid those that droop, have a lot of green around the bract edges, or have fallen or yellowed leaves. Plants should look full, balanced and attractive from all sides. Check the true flowers, which are located at the base of the colored bracts. If the flowers are green or red-tipped and fresh looking, the bloom will hold longer than if yellow pollen is covering the flowers.

Storage:

Water when soil is dry to the touch. Use cool tap water, and add it until it drains from the bottom of the pot. Decorative wraps around the pots can trap water and suffocate the roots. Never allow the plants to stand in water for more than 30 minutes. Excess water causes roots to die from lack of oxygen and root rot diseases. Be sure to let all water drain from the pots by piercing the decorative wrap or taking the pots out of the decorative wrap before watering.

Outdoor cultivation:

In March, if not sooner, move plants outside to a spot where they will receive indirect light. Water enough to keep the plant from wilting, but don’t keep the soil wet all of the time. In late March or April, cut the plant back to within five or six inches of the soil, reduce the amount of watering, and move it to a sunny location. Fertilize when new growth emerges.

When the plant has outgrown the pot — usually about mid-May — it is time to repot it to a larger container, or transplant it to the ground. Select a pot no more than four inches larger than the original one. Use a standard potting mix, and continue fertilizing monthly.

For a fuller plant, pinch back new growth about four to six weeks after it first appears. Leave four to six leaves on the stem when you do the first pinch, and then continue to pinch the top two or three leaves every six weeks until September. Do not prune after Sept. 1, or around the time of repotting.

Flower power:

Cheerful colors of poinsettia brighten decor and bring a smile and sense of contentment when people see them. Research reinforces what people intuitively know, that indoor flowers make you feel better. One study found that cognitive performance is better in offices with plants. Another found that patients in hospital rooms with plants needed less postoperative pain medication and were generally in a more positive mental state than those without plants. Green leafy plants have been linked to increased creativity.

Tip:

Poinsettias have long been veiled in an aura of folklore and have gained the reputation of being a deadly plant. This is not true. The College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University published an article stating that poinsettias are not very toxic to pets, but they do contain a milky sap that can irritate the mouth. If reactions develop, they are usually mild.

A study at Ohio State University showed that a 50-pound child would have to eat more than a pound-and-a-quarter of poinsettia leaves (500 to 600 leaves) to have any side effects. The most common side effects that have been reported from poinsettia ingestions are upset stomach and vomiting. The leaves are reportedly not very tasty, so it’s highly unlikely that kids or even pets would be able to eat that many. But be aware that the leaves can still be a choking hazard for children and pets.

Makaleha Nursery plants can be found at:

Home Depot, Walmart and Kmart. Makaleha Nursery hours are Mon. through Fri. 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call 808-635-4222.

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Marta Lane has been a Kauai-based food writer since 2010. After graduating from a 12-week organic farming course on the North Shore, she became the farm’s Community Supported Agriculture manager. Lane is the author of “Tasting Kauai: Restaurants — An Insider’s Guide to Eating Well on the Garden Island.” For more information, visit www.TastingKauai.com.

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