In Arizona, we aren't lacking on types of plants to grow in our homes and yards. The amount of sunlight and warm weather we get keeps plants growing year round. Nevertheless, maybe you are interested in keeping a plant that requires a bit more work and some finesse but could become part of your Holiday tradition. I'm talking about getting a poinsettia or Christmas cactus and keeping them year-round!
Did you know that poinsettia are native to Central America, specifically southern Mexico? They are a common sight around the holidays. You can walk into almost any store and find them there, ready to purchase. The stores have probably used them as decoration as well. Lately, different varieties have been made available for purchase. Red is the most common color we see, but there are actually over a hundred varieties of poinsettia including pink, white, burgundy, orange, and even marbled. The colored €œflowers€ are actually modified leaves known as bracts. The plant can ooze a milky sap, which may cause irritation for some people and plants. It's good practice to keep them out of reach of animals, especially puppies and kittens.
Botanically, the plant is known as Euphorbia pulcherrima. To the Aztec, it was called Cuitlaxochitl. In Mexico and Guatemala it is known as La Flor de la Nochebuena or plant of the Holy Night. In Peru and Chile, it is known as the Crown of the Andes. In Spain, it is seen around a totally different holiday, and is known as Flor de Pascua or Easter flower. In the United States, it is called a pointsettia because of the first ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett. Poinsett was also a botanist who introduced the plant to the country in the 1820's. December 12, is Poinsettia Day in the United States. Most of the poinsettias sold in this country, and the world, come from a farm in California.
Many people buy a poinsettia during the holidays or receive one as a gift which end up dying for various reasons - poor gardening skills, lack of watering, etc. Those of us with a green thumb, who have kept our poinsettias alive, know that they eventually lose the colored leaves. The plants will keep growing, but will not change color until you force them to. This is done by putting them into a dormant state, which includes keeping them in the dark for 12-16 hours a day. This forces the color change to happen, and if timed correctly, could be right on schedule for the holidays each year.
Schlumbergera, also known as the Christmas cactus, is actually much different from the cacti we know and love of Arizona. These plants are actually tropical plants native to coastal mountains in Brazil where they grow hanging off rocks and trees. Because of their natural instinct to hang, these plants are perfect for hanging baskets in your home. Their name comes from the time of year they blossom in the United States, which is usually around Thanksgiving and Christmas. In Brazil, they bloom in May and known as the May Flower. They have flat leaves with blooms coming in a variety of colors - the most popular being red, which also lends it the name of Christmas cactus. Fun fact about this plant - you can take a leaf off one of these and put it in a new pot and it will grow a whole new plant.
Some Christmas Cactuses can grow for hundreds of years and have become like heirlooms to some families, passing them down through the generations. They do take a deft hand to keep alive, since they are not desert dwelling cacti and actually prefer cooler temperatures. While they are a hearty plant, they do need to be misted with water daily and if they don't start blooming on their own, you can force the process by putting them a dark room for 12-14 hours a day, with plenty of sunlight the rest of the time. As mentioned before, once your plant is in a stable routine, you can keep it alive for years.
Growing plants is not for everyone but if you have a green thumb or know someone who does, then these plants can make an amazing purchase for yourself or thoughtful gift for someone else. Just make sure you provide them with the how to's of keeping one of these plants alive, so they aren't wasted in the trash after the New
Year. If you decide you'd like to take on a Christmas cactus or poinsettia, the Pickle Barrel Trading Post offers a spectacular array of talavera pots in which to put your new plants. Ranging from large to small, you'll find something to suit your needs! I encourage you to think about starting a new Holiday tradition this year.
By Cameron Vines