Euphorbia pulcherrima, more commonly known as poinsettia, is a large deciduous shrubby plant with red bracts (modified leaves) originating in Mexico. In its natural habitat it can reach 5′ or 6′ in height, not a very practical plant for the house, but careful breeding over the years has resulted in some lovely compact varieties ideal for our modern homes and a must for the Christmas season simply because of their cheerful and colourful appearance.
Because of the breeding programmes not only do we have red poinsettias now but other colours including pink, burgundy, cream and white. Some varieties even have striped or mottled bracts so there is sure to be something to suit all tastes.
When purchasing a poinsettia look carefully at the centre of the bracts and you will see the true flowers, these are yellow and should still be in tight bud.
Poinsettias require warm, bright and draught-free conditions in order to perform well. Allow the surface of the compost to dry out slightly before giving a good watering. It is a good idea to keep your watering can topped up in a frost-free place over winter then you will always have some water ready for your indoor plants that is not freezing cold.
Poinsettias are generally discarded after flowering but if you like a challenge they can be kept for another year. The light levels need to be carefully controlled to encourage the colour back into the bracts so from the end of September the whole plant needs covering over with a black polythene bag for 14 hours each day for 8 weeks. Because of the dwarfing agents which will have been used on the plant when you initially bought it, expect the plant to be much taller in subsequent years.