Plant Answers  >  Christmas Tree and Poinsettia Care

by Jerry Parsons, Ph.D.
Horticulture Specialist, Texas Agricultural Extension Service in San Antonio

Some people's minds have "adulterized" the English language. For that reason I must offer the definition of a commonly known word before I begin this purely educational column. The word "butt", as defined by Webster himself, means "1. the thick end of anything. 2. the remaining end of anything; stub; stump." Now that we know the true meaning of butt, the slang?minded will not be offended or confused if I offer some sound Christmas season advice: KEEP YOUR BUTT CLEAN AND MOIST BUT DON'T EAT THE FLOWERS.

KEEP YOUR BUTT CLEAN. Hygiene is especially important if your Christmas tree is to endure the brutality of amputation from its natural environment. Imagine that your tree has been cut several weeks ago, hauled down the mountain, packed into refrigerated train boxcars and shipped to the final destination. During this period of translocation the water uptake mechanism of the tree becomes blocked with dirt, sawdust and resins. To alleviate this situation buy your tree several days before it will be set up and decorated and cut the butt of the tree at a diagonal about one inch above the original cut. This will open the water uptake pores and will aid in the absorption of water. Place the butt end in a container of water. When you decide to bring the tree into the house, saw the butt again, squaring off the diagonal. This facilitates placing the tree in a stand as well as further aiding in and increasing the rate of water absorption.

KEEP YOUR BUTT MOIST. Keep the butt end of the tree in a container of water the entire time it is in the house. Refill the container daily as the tree requires a lot of water. Sprinkling water on the branches and needles before you decorate the tree will help retain freshness. You may also want to spray the tree with some of the anti?transpirants such as Wilt Proof or Cloud Cover which reduce water loss from needles. The tree will take up a larger quantity of water at first, as much as a gallon a day, but will slack off later. Tests show that a 6?foot Christmas tree will take up between 1 and 2.5 pints per day during the 3?week season. Once the tree is put in a container of water, never allow the container to dry out. Experience shows that needle loss from trees with an interrupted water supply is far greater than needle loss from trees with a continuous supply of water. An interrupted water supply could be worse than no water.

DON'T EAT THE FLOWERS! Every year at this time when poinsettias are being sold and displayed some folks go crazy. They want to know if poinsettias are poisonous if eaten. Who cares! We're not selling poke salad or collards here; we're talking poinsettias ? ? plants that are to be looked at, not eaten. . The anti-poinsettia warnings originated in Hawaii in 1919, when a doctor attributed -- incorrectly, authorities now say -- the death of a 2-year-old child to eating a poinsettia leaf. Studies have since found that munching the leaves causes no ill effects besides the indigestion or vomiting that can occur from eating any kind of plant to excess. According to the POISINDEX database, extrapolations from experiments on animals indicate that a 50-pound child could eat 500 or so poinsettia leaves with no ill effects. In 1995, a study of data from poison control centers found no toxic reactions out of almost 23,000 reported exposures. However, the myth persists mainly because of the sap, which is thick, milky, and,well, gross looking. The problem may have something to do with the plant''s name - "poinsettia" sounds an awful lot like ""poison." The origin of the myth has a weird coda: By one account, the Hawaii physician realized his original diagnosis was mistaken and planned to return to the mainland to correct his error. He died before he could make the trip.

Despite sound evidence to the contrary, the poinsettia phobia continues. A recent Bruskin/Goldring Research poll of 1,000 Americans commissioned by SAF found that 50 percent of those polled said they believed poinsettias are toxic if eaten. Only 16 percent correctly know that they are not. Another 34 percent said they don't know.

Some respondents more misinformed than others

The myth is widespread, but some population segments are even more likely than others to be believers.

Women out-believe men by a wide margin -- 57 percent of women said they believe poinsettias to be toxic, compared to 42 percent of men.

Americans aged 25 to 49 are also more likely to suffer poinsettia phobia than those aged 50 and over.

Geography also seems to play a role. Americans living in the Northeast believe the myth in higher numbers (57 percent) than those living in the west (44 percent).

If Americans aren't getting this misinformation from science journals, where is it coming from? Among people who believe that poinsettias are toxic, 43 percent said they learned it by "word of mouth." Not far behind was the media, cited by 37 percent.

The poinsettia has been declared non?poisonous. This doesn't mean that the leaves won't give you a stomach ache if you don't use the proper salad dressing and compliment the meal with the best wine selection. Rather than eating the beautiful poinsettia why not plant some seed of collards or mustard greens for future use? The red poinsettia is by far the most popular potted plant for the Christmas season. White, pink, and variegated white and pink are also available. If properly cared for, they may last a month or more after Christmas.

Poinsettias also require proper selection and care. The red flowering poinsettia is by far the most popular flowering potted plant for the Christmas season. White, pink, and variegated white and pink are also available. Many new, long lasting varieties of poinsettias are now available. If properly cared for, they may last a month or more after Christmas.

Check your poinsettia daily and follow these tips. Water your poinsettia frequently but don't drown it. One easy way to water the potting mix in which the plants are growing without flooding the living room is to use ice cubes when applying moisture,i.e., put 4 ice cubes (64 ml of water) per day per small quart-size or
6-inch pot; put eight ice cubes (128 ml of water) per day per medium
8-inch pot; put twelve ice cubes (192 ml of water) per day per larger,
10-inch pots. Ice cube size varies; the recommendations given are for
ice cubes for which 20 melted cubes will produce 320 ml of water as
measured by a standard measuring cup used for cooking.
Keep the plant out of drafts, hot or cold. Place the plant in good light inside the house. And finally, after blooming, discard or begin preparing the plant to bloom again next year.

Poinsettias can be cut and used in flower arrangements, provided the stems are sealed. Cut the "blooms" with at least four inches of stem. Immediately seal the cut end by dipping in boiling water or holding over a flame for fifteen seconds. Sealing prevents the sap from oozing from the cut and thus, preventing the cut stem from wilting. "Blooms" should last a week or more. Make sure the cut end is in water or a wet florist block. Discard flowers when wilted and leaves start falling.

Poinsettias are perhaps the most difficult flowering potted plants to rebloom indoors. Fortunately in South Texas, poinsettias can be planted directly out-of-doors in the spring after the danger of frost is past. If placed in a protected area where early fall frost won't harm it, they will make beautiful plants for the next holiday season.

Make sure that the outdoor poinsettia receives only natural sunlight. Any additional light from yard and street lights will inhibit blooming. Keep pinching out the tips of the new growth once a month so the plant will bush out. Do no pinching after August 15th. The plant should flower right on time if these procedures are followed.

So remember, keep your butt clean and moist, don't eat the flowers and always know that Parsons does not deal in innuendoes bordering on vulgarity - unless he encounters some "confused" readers.


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