The Poplar Poinsettia Project

At any given time in your life you’re bound to utter an idle wish aloud only to find it filled in abundance. Such was the case when in December I issued an appeal for abandoned or discarded seasonal florals—particularly poinsettias, though paper whites were involved as well—in hopes of a rescue operation ending with my resurrecting these insanely stressed and failing plants to life and color.

The donated poinsettias, a legion, were placed in a topless wooden box against the back wall of my south-facing garden. Our record-setting warm winter required only a few occasions when they had to be covered, but by mid-March while still rich with color they had begun to tatter. By then, occupied with the main beds and not really that invested in the poinsettias at all, I let them languish and decay, not even covering them when we had a late cold spell. I opened a new bed on the north, and further neglected the poinsettias while I busied myself with other chores. The first week of April, I took all the pots of poinsettias out, had to throw two dead ones away, two of the big four-plants-to-a-pot, but I’d found the smaller pots of plants had put out new growth on the stalks that still had some red leaves. After a final trimming to remove the last vestiges of deadwood, I planted the remaining poinsettias, some dozen and more, all in the strongest sun available.

Throughout the summer they thrived, putting out lush, vigorous growth. Poinsettias are known for their colored bracts, which are leaves, not flower petals; the actual flowers of a poinsettia are so insignificant that they don’t even attract pollinators. The plant itself (Euphorbia pulcherrima for those of you who might wonder) is a shrub—mine averaged about 3-4 feet—bearing dark green dentate leaves. The stems of the leaves and often the ribs, depending on the coloring of the bracts, is anywhere from a rich gold to a ruby red. Even without the holiday coloring, poinsettias are pretty plants, and they filled in the blank spots between the coleus, peppers and cacti with authority.

Yes, I knew that poinsettias require two autumn months of dark nights and sunny days to develop color, and I’d been told that incidental night light from passing cars or a street light would hamper coloring. Sill I planted these on one of the busiest corners in Belhaven, and almost to the day on the fall equinox glaring LED lights were installed on a pole not 20 yards up the hill. I expected nothing in the way of color at all, not even the faintest blush on any top leaf, so when I walked to the garden in a lazy autumn rain and found harlequin scarlet, my heart turned, and I began to smile.

We’ll likely get a withering frost soon, but I’ve learned to find comfort in small victories. Remember me after Christmas.