A little extra care is needed to keep poinsettia plants healthy and growing after the Christmas season.

Other than the Christmas tree, the poinsettia is one of the most recognizable decorative plants of the Christmas season. Their bright red leaves make them a perfect accent piece for homes, businesses and churches.

Poinsettias are one of the few flowers that bloom in the winter time. Their blossoms are shaped like the star of Bethlehem. The word poinsettia means "Flowers of the Holy Night" and they grow wild all over Mexico, said Lou Lynn Moss, owner and florist at the Flower Shoppe.

In 1825, the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico brought poinsettia to South Carolina where they were first introduced in the United States. Paul Ecke was the first to develop hybrids for sale in the U.S.

Poinsettia are a popular plant to give for Christmas. They can be kept indoors but they do require some extra care to thrive.

Poinsettias are sensitive to drafts so when placing a plant, make sure they are well away from doors and indoor vents. If the plant gets too cold, it will cause the leaves to fall off, Moss said.

More water is required than for other house plants. They should be watered twice a week but not so much that they are in standing water. They need very little fertilizer and they can be over fertilized so keep fertilizer to a minimum and only once every six months. They need some natural light but don't have to be next to a window, Moss said.

The poinsettia has a religious background and have been used for many years in church Christmas decorations. They are known for their bright red leaves but their blossom is very small and located at the center of the plant. The small blossoms will last from four to six weeks and have a little feather to them. The tighter the berry, the fresher the plant.

When transporting the plant, it is very important to keep the plant upright and not carry it on its side. The leaves have hollow stems and if they are carried on their side, the leaves can break off.

While the familiar poinsettia plant is short, the wild plants can get very tall, even reaching six feet in height. The leaves tend to fall off along the stem in tall plants.

They are treated during their growing season to prevent them from becoming tall and lanky, Moss said.

There is a belief that poinsettia are poisonous and that cats are alergic to them but that is a myth. The plants have a milky white substance that comes out when a branch is broken off and it does burn if it comes in contact with the mouth. There is also redness and swelling if it comes in contact with the skin. While it does burn, an entire plant would have to be eaten to be harmful, according to the Society of American Florists, Moss said.

Poinsettia are available at several locations in Pratt.

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