Poinsettias have a special place in my pantheon of overused seasonal potted plants. Actually, the main thing that annoys me about them is not even their appearance (though we’ll get to that in a minute). Like the potted gift hydrangeas one sees at Easter, or the potted mums one sees at all times, poinsettias torture lower-zone recipients in a special way.
After their six weeks or so as viable houseplants are up, well-meaning gardeners everywhere start gnashing their teeth, pulling out their hair, and calling into their radio gardening shows with questions: “How can I overwinter my poinsettia?”, “How can I protect the supermarket mums I just planted?”, and “Will my gift hydrangea bloom if I plant it outside?” If the radio experts have any mercy, they will answer thusly: “You can’t.” “You can’t.” “No.” “Please compost.”
But often they don’t. They want to help, so they give advice; they describe strategies that just might work (but usually not under zone 5 or without a greenhouse). You have to envy the non-gardeners who are given these plants. They enjoy them exactly for what they are and then they toss them without a qualm.
Getting back to poinsettias. I have actually found some varieties I like: the rose-shaped varietals, for example, are quite attractive, and once a nursery owner gave me a tree form that was very impressive. And then there are the spray-painted, glitter-covered ones I started seeing a couple years back. These, for many, come under the category of “so tacky they’re cool.” Or for others, the reaction might be “Why? For the love of (your seasonal deity here), why!!??” I realize that painted poinsettias are a style thing. As explained by Adrian Higgins in the Washington Post when they first started appearing:
… the dyed poinsettias allow people to match the poinsettia to their decor or to complement other fashionable Christmas decorations. In 2005, these include retro-tinsel trees or fake trees hung upside down. The poinsettias also offer holiday fare for revelers of different faiths or ethnicities—blue-petaled and silver-glittered poinsettias for Hanukkah, for example—and can even be used to match the colors of a football team.
This is the type of over-the-top fun we’d giggle over if we were seeing it on Runway. Plus, selling these helps keep nurseries going through a very slow season, and, what the heck, why get excited about desecrating a plant I never found too attractive in its natural state?
But I don’t want to hear the phone calls from people begging to know how they can keep their glitter-covered, silver-and-blue-painted poinsettias alive until next Christmas.
Susan points to another Post article by Higgins (look at all the Rant love for him today!), in which he suggests alternatives to poinsettias such as cyclamen, Christmas cactus (schlumbergera), Norfolk pine, and gardenia. I agree wholeheartedly with the first two, the third I’m not sure about for indoor viability (or lasting until it can be planted), and the fourth I would approach with caution. Many Northerners have problems overwintering gardenias, though I love mine.