Poinsettias: Variations in a Theme

Check out this grower's favorite cultivars. Plus, care tips for this holiday favorite.

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Along with sprigs of holly and mistletoe, the poinsettia has become a favorite colorful embellishment during the winter holidays. Grower Paul Ecke shows off his collection of poinsettias.

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A sample of poinsettia cultivars

The colorful parts of the poinsettia are the top sets of leaves, known as the bracts or modified leaves. The flowers are the small, yellow, budlike centers called the cyathia. The various colors, shapes and forms of the bracts are what make each poinsettia cultivar unique. Here are just a few of Ecke's holiday favorites.

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'Kris Krinkle' has brilliant red, ruffled bracts.

'Mini Star' is a miniature red cultivar that's quite popular in Europe but hasn't caught on in the U.S. "We haven't really been able to get Americans, who like big stuff, to fall in love with 'Mini Star'," says Ecke.

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'Jester' has bracts that grow upwards, instead of laying flat or drooping.

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'Winter Rose' isn't your typical red poinsettia. Its red bracts are uniquely twisted in such a way that they resemble roses. Dark green foliage underneath the red bracts accents their unique shape.

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'Ice Punch' has a unique variegation on its bracts. A splash of white decorates the red bracts.

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'Visions of Grandeur' is a large cultivar with giant cream-colored bracts.

Poinsettia care

When transporting your poinsettia, protect it as best you can from cold temperatures by carrying it in a protective sleeve or a large bag that can be removed at home. Place it in a location with indirect sunlight and free from cold drafts or excessive heat. Ecke recommends putting your poinsettia in the same place where you would like to be: "If you're too cold, it's too cold."

Take care not to overwater, especially with plants in decorative foil sleeves. Instead, remove the poinsettia from its sleeve and allow the water to drain through before placing it back in the sleeve. Or, remove the plant from the sleeve and place it in a reservoir where you can see when the water passes through.

What do you do when the holidays are over and your poinsettia is finished with its colorful show? Ecke recommends throwing it out and buying a new one next year, instead of trying to get it to "rebloom." Poinsettias require much effort to get another flush of color.

Are poinsettias poisonous?

There's a misconception that poinsettias are highly poisonous. According to studies done by the Ohio State University in connection with the Society of American Florists, no toxicity was found when eaten in quantities higher than those likely to occur in the typical home environment. However, this doesn't mean you should go eat a poinsettia for dinner. There have been occasional cases when people have had mild allergic reactions to the sap, notably skin irritation or rashes.

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