Making my peace with poinsettias


IMG_2798As you can  imagine, many of my most passionate rants are years in the past, back when we started. You can only inveigh against lawn culture, shake your fist against Big Chem, or rage about cheap resin statuary so many times. Then there the things I’ve ranted against that many people like, including a whole slew of plants that I’ve deemed boring, overused, or just plain ugly. One of these was poinsettia, which abound at this time of year in nurseries and big boxes. (I’ve also seen them as lanky shrubs growing outside in places like Barbados, but that never bothers me.)

However, I must admit that, over the past few years, I’ve been bringing poinsettias home at this season—just for a few weeks. They really have come up with some nice hybrids. I love the soft pink ones, the mottled red and white ones, and the ones with variegated leaves and red bracts (two of these shown above). They look great in groups of three in the one nonworking fireplace—but no shiny foil pot wrappings, please.

I don’t love them enough to try to keep them alive much into January—I take minimal trouble with them in any case—but they’ve become good additions to the rest of my holiday décor, along with a few other little novelty  plants (tiny winterberries and something called Frosty Fern) that I use on mantlepieces and other surfaces. I like to be festive with plants and greenery more than anything else.

I still hate poinsettias that have been spray painted and/or sprayed with glitter. That’s still disgusting. And just wrong. You can’t even compost them.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. While I appreciate your mellowing stance toward poinsettias, and I know others think they are wonderful, I still don’t like them. My dislike for them sits alongside my dislike for all agaves.–Now I’m an outcast for sure!

  2. I used to have the same feeling about poinsettias, until this past year when I somehow managed to keep one alive until spring. I put it outside in a pot and it became one of my favorite foliage plants of the summer. So beautiful!

  3. I’ve always loved poinsettias. Will never tolerate the spray-painted or glitter-glued variety, but that goes for all plants.

  4. Count me among those who never got the poinsettia fever. We need tropical plants at Christmastime because why? Every so often someone will gift me with one, and I will be gracious about it–after all, I get to keep the pot, right? But there is no way that thing is going to survive in my woodstove-heated house, let alone outside. Too fussy for me. I prefer Christmas cactus, and evergreens. My rosemary is blooming right now and smells heavenly!

  5. In the runup to National Poinsettia Day (, and before casting any more a-spurge-ions, you forb-ier folks ought to bractice a little more holiday spirit.

  6. For the first time last week I actually saw blue painted poinsettias in the store. It was shockingly weird. I still don’t care much for the paler varieties, only the standard red seems right to me.

  7. Elizabeth, please tell me more about the tiny winterberries. Do you simply mean that you cut small tips off of larger branches, or is there actually such a thing as a mini plant?

  8. Lurker from a Big Box here, I detest the Blue and Purple poinsettias with a passion! Same thing goes for the Blue orchids and dark green painted, beglittered Norfolk Island pines. Norfolks are a lovely shade of chartusey green and make pretty good house plants here in CA till they outgrow their space.
    Back to the red tide, do any of you remember the “Christmas Rose” variety fad several years back? Ugly! I will probably be getting a pink one like the one in your picture,

  9. I consider poinsettias a holiday annual.
    I buy forced bulbs to lift my spirits in winter, mums for fall and poinsettias for Christmas. Each is welcome in its season.
    I used to scorn poinsettias, thinking that Christmas cactus was a much better value, as a long-term addition to my houseplant collection. Then my window-spots filled up and realized that I don’t WANT another dependent, I want a fling!
    I buy a few poinsettias every December. Can’t handle the painted and glittered ones, and I agree with marcia on the winter rose. My current favorites are the burgundy shades, and it’s fun to match up one of the unique colors with a more permanent houseplant, like a peach-pink with a burgundy oxalis.
    And I feel no remorse about walking them to the compost pile on New Year’s day….

  10. I happen to like the new color version cultivars, and we’re mild enough here in the SF Bay Area we can use them on the porch, or plant them against a south facing wall for blooms the following year. Because they can remain colorful for another half the year. So why be so quick to toss? Now all those Chrysanthemums at the Big Box stores, such flashes in the pan by comparison, don’t get me started.

    Preferred Holiday live plants; Cymbidium orchids, no contest!

  11. Well, then you may well love the yellow and green poinsettias that coming down the pike in the next couple years. You might also like Avant Garde, the Carousel series, the new Princettia series, and all the Jingle Bells types.

  12. I think I’ve made my peace with the Point! Unless it’s blues with glitter, I still fall for some. But I really miss the tall (untreated with growth hormone) types, if not the pure species itself. I went to college in Hawaii, and we had them growing like hydrangea shrubs around the foundation of out house that we rented. Now, in New England, I keep a few tall, untreated selections under glass, but of course, they bloom later in the winter.

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