As you read this, hundreds of poinsettia plants are nestled together in a Muttart Conservatory greenhouse. If you saw them in September or October, you might not recognize them. Though poinsettias do have small flowers, most of their colour comes from their bracts, or modified leaves, and those leaves don’t show their true colours until late in the year. In early fall, they range from light to dark green.
The poinsettia’s winter colours can range from traditional bright red to white, cream, salmon, apricot or colour combinations. Over one hundred varieties of poinsettia have been created by enthusiasts, who carefully balance between the long hours of darkness poinsettias need in order to change colour, and the daylight needed for those colours to be as vivid as possible.
The first poinsettias came from Mexico, where Euphorbia pulcherrima grows wild and looks more like a gangly shrub than the compact house plants we’re used to seeing. They have been associated with the winter holiday season for over five hundred years.
Each year in Edmonton, the Muttart Conservatory grows a number of poinsettia colour varieties, beginning the plants as early as August.
“They’re a plant that requires careful tending,” says Muttart Conservatory head grower James McIvor. “Having the right amount of daylight and the right amount of darkness… not going outside of their temperature range… keeping the humidity correct… all of this makes a big difference in producing healthy and attractive plants. A plant that received the right care from the start is a plant that will do much better in people’s homes over the holidays.”
Once the plants are ready, they appear at facilities and offices through the City of Edmonton and become available for sale in the Muttart Conservatory gift shop.
To keep a poinsettia in good condition, make sure to keep it well-wrapped and warm if you have to carry it to your vehicle, and only water when its soil is dry to the touch.