Do you till have your Christmas Poinsettia - Euphorbia pulcherrima? Millions of them are bought at the festive time of the year and and for a few brief days, brighten our homes with splashes of vivid scarlet before limping off to 'death by dustbin', along with old wrapping paper, cards and dried-out Christmas trees. Not surprisingly their survival rate is low, as they originate in Mexico and keel over and die if exposed to temperatures lower than 13 degrees for even as little as fifteen minutes! This means that those appealing plants ranged in the lobby of the newsagent, petrol station or supermarket are probably half-way to horticultural heaven even before they reach the chilly boot of the car... Initially grown for cutting, poinsettias (whose 'petals' are actually coloured leaf-bracts), were commercialised first in the USA. Nowadays grown as potted plants in heated European greenhouses with all the associated tender loving care of vast commercial operations, plus chemicals to keep them healthy and unnaturally small, they are a far cry from the tall and leggy plants growing semi-wild that I remember seeing in the Canary Islands. Personally, I can't help but feel such a lot of time, attention and energy could perhaps be better used cultivating something more beneficial. However, there's no denying that their bright good looks make them an attractive and cheap gift at a time of year when a splash of red (and now also cream, pink and ‘splotched’) is most needed.
It is possible to over-winter poinsettias and I did once try but wished I hadn’t bothered as the resulting knobbly, bare branches looked nothing like the plant I had originally bought. So, from now on if I can't find British-grown plants with longer life-span and less travel-miles involved, I’ll stick with my artificial garlands and their very realistic scarlet poinsettia blooms - one of my small ways of reducing carbon imprint as well as waste at Christmas.