Let’s clear up one big misunderstanding, poinsettias are NOT poisonous! It’s a myth. The sap of the plant can cause irritation, especially for people who have an allergy to latex. The sap is also extremely bitter. Any child or pet inclined to taste a poinsettia plant would be unlikely to get past the first bite because of the bitter taste. A kid would have to eat 500 leaves to get sick! If you don’t believe me, check out these sources: webmd, Good Housekeeping Magazine, Snopes, the University of Illinois. Plenty of Christmas plants and decorations are poisonous or hazardous, but not this one!
Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s get on to how to care for your plant. The poinsettia was introduced to the US by Joel Poinsett, a botanist and the first US Ambassador to Mexico in the 1820s. He found the plant growing wild there and brought specimens back when he returned home. The poinsettia is native to sub-tropical, semi-arid parts of North and Central America. This tells us two things: it doesn’t like to be too cold; and it doesn’t like to be too wet.
Avoid excessive heat or cold. On cold days we will wrap your plant in a sleeve for protection from cold air. That’s fine for getting your poinsettia to and from the car, but don’t let it sit outside or in a cold car for more than a few minutes. Once inside your home, normal room temperatures are fine. Try to avoid large temperature fluctuations and exposure to direct heat sources such as a heat duct or a fireplace.
For sunlight, bright indirect light is ideal, but a blooming poinsettia will tolerate very low light or even artificial light for a few weeks during the holiday season.
Proper watering is important. There are really two main ways to kill a poinsettia: never water it, or water it too much. The plant likes to be a little moist but never soggy! Monitor the plant daily. Feel the top of the soil with your finger. Water as soon as the soil starts to feel dry. Never add water to a plant while the soil is still moist!
Let’s just recap this last point. Many houseplants come from tropical rainforests. These plants like to be moist all the time and are rarely damaged by overwatering. NOT the poinsettia! It comes from relatively dry regions. Too much water is the kiss of death for a poinsettia. Your plant will need to be checked regularly for water, but only add water when the soil starts to feel dry on the top. Add a little water at a time until the soil is just moist, not soggy. Don’t water again until the soil starts to feel dry to the touch.
Although most people keep their poinsettias just for the holiday season, it is possible to keep them for many years. Instructions for extended care and reblooming are readily available online.