Thursday, October 18, 2007

Horde (Euphorbia pulcherrima)

The greenhouse / garden center where I work got its poinsettia orders in on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. Everybody had been talking about this for so long – all scary stuff, too, like you think this is bad, wait 'til the points1 get here, it'll take four or five of us an hour or two just to unload the truck – but the event itself, at least the first time, wasn't that terrible. On Tuesday, it did in fact take six people about an hour to unload roughly 600 plants, but so what, I thought. Usually when something takes me an hour, it's because it's a simple thing and nobody's helping; at least for this I have assistance. And setting them out on the tables wasn't bad either, because there were two other people helping me do that. So no big deal.

Wednesday, though, was different. On Wednesday, another 200 or so poinsettias came in, and I had next to no help at all. On the surface, this seems fair, since on Tuesday, there were three people distributing 600 plants on tables, and on Wednesday, it was one person doing 200 plants. 200 plants per person, either way. The difference is that on Wednesday, most of the table space was already spoken for, so in order to place the new 200, I had to first rearrange the 600, and so it took a hell of a long time and I didn't feel so hot in the first place.

But so anyway. I don't necessarily dislike poinsettias. I'd like them a lot better if they didn't bloom; the whole red-and-green thing strikes me as kind of gaudy, and it keeps you from noticing that the foliage is actually quite nice in its own right. Plus, in a few months, they're going to be everywhere, and I get tired of them. But it's not necessarily the fault of the plants that they've gotten associated with our biggest, most extravagant consumer holiday.

What I'm less thrilled about – and keep in mind that I've never tried to grow one personally, so I'm going according to what people tell me at work – is that they're kind of difficult plants. It's hard for me to separate what people are telling me we need to do in order to get them to bloom from what a person needs to do just to keep them alive, but so far, I've been told that: 1) they're whitefly magnets, 2) they're pissy about getting too hot or too cold, 3) they're sensitive to chemicals in the environment, 4) they can't stand being overwatered, 5) the leaves break off easily so you have to be careful about bumping into them, 6) they need enormous amounts of light, and 7) they need enormous amounts of fertilizer. Add in there the need for long nights in order to set buds, and we've got what looks like a greenhouse full of really demanding, touchy plants that have to be cared for really well, or else I'm the guy who ruined Christmas.

What's wrong with Norfolk Island pines (Araucaria heterophylla), anyway?

Something to be grateful for: I haven't seen any indication yet that I'm going to be asked to spray-paint them, or coat them in glitter. It's not a moral issue; it doesn't make you a bad person if you sell them that way, or if you like them that way, but the idea makes me want to vomit all the same, so it's good if I don't have to.


Photo credit: Ewen and Donabel @

1(Garden center slang for "poinsettias," apparently.)


Anonymous said...

A buddy of mine use to work for a greenhouse. I still remember his comments about caring for them. It was a bit of a bitch.

Only point. I've ever seen grow and rebloom effortlessly was in a neighbor's yard when I lived in Hawaii. Plant was about 6' tall and as wide.

Dam said...

I think that this particular Euphorbia is a kind of paradox, because you can find it awfully yellow and near death in a pot with the best conditions, and also it could grow like a tree in a forgotten place near the highway... like I said, a paradox. Or a f*ckin b*tch, it depends on the mood of the gardener.

Paul said...

REALLY?! I never heard of them demanding tons of light. In fact, the ones I've grown only seem to produce in the shade. They do, however, seem to work better in larger pots (terra cotta) with plenty of nitrogen. Bat guano seems perfect.

Aside from that, they're ridiculously easy to reproduce from cuttings.

mr_subjunctive said...


You wouldn't give a poinsettia being grown indoors full sun?

Unknown said...

In my experience with poinsettias they need bright indirect light, not lots of sunlight. Here in Florida, Poinsettia do awesome on the north side of a house where they never see direct sunlight. They do drop their leaves if they get too dry. And if you ever want them to turn red again, you have to artificially shorten the length of daylight they get (i.e. bring indoors, or put in a darker location).

cupoteacoast said...

I'm from New Zealand and our climate here is about equal to US zone 9, with a max of 26c by summer and down to 0c at night by winter. I've had a Poinsettia in bloom for 6 months now. I keep mine sheltered in a covered porch over summer, but in shade, with well drained soil and kept damp but never wet. They do not like full sun, or being dried out. Peat is crap for them too, they much prefer well draining potting soil. We are going into winter now and my plants has is starting to drop its lower leaves. Poinsettia is deciduous. Keep it warm over winter and it'll come bounding back again. They need long dark winter nights with not even a house light on to rebloom in red.

S. S. said...

I got one about 5 years ago, which dropped all its leaves and looked quite dead as soon as I got it home. Because I do get lazy, I kept not bothering to chuck it in the trash until about 3 weeks later, I saw tons of leaf buds popping out all over it. It was a pretty if slow-growing foliage plant and did very well in my window (which was on the second floor and right behind a very big tree). When I moved and put it in a very sunny window, it decided to bloom again that spring for the first time in four years! My exact words were "It remembered what it is!" Then it dropped everything just like the last time.
But it and I get along very well. Actually, I'm afraid to mess with it because every other poinsettia I've ever had died and rotted right after Christmas if not before. I occasionally remember to water it, and it has lovely deep green leaves on red petioles. A nasty whitefly swarm did once come from nowhere and take over it, but they stayed dead after a few sprays of soap. Other than that, it does very well with minimal bothering and the occasional repotting when it starts to droop.

Draconiusultamius said...

I've heard poinsettias are xerophytes, so they don't seem like they'd be hard to grow all year. I mean, xerophytes are pretty much universally the easy care plants, like cacti or succulents. I'd love to have a stab at growing them year round myself. And yeas, they do seem to drop foliage after blooming since I remember mines dropped it's leaves shortly before being placed in the garbage. I'm guessing many people see it as the plant dying, and most people don't want a plant without leaves (Perhaps I'll try to convince a store to sell me a small pot of these 'dead' poinsettias for $0.50 and see what happens someday)