O Poinsettia tops list of festive plants tree: so many fresh choices

The holidays are a time when a lot of the color of our outdoor landscape has faded away. The leaves have fallen and gray skies are becoming more frequent.

The holidays are also a time of happiness and cheer, a time that you spend with your loved ones. Having festive plants in your home is a great way to brighten the atmosphere and bring a feeling of love, laughter and joy to your holiday gathering.

These are a couple of my favorite holiday plants available at this time of year.

With the introduction of long-lasting cultivars, during the past several years, the Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) must be my all-time favorite.

The Poinsettia was introduced to the United States by Joel Robert Poinsett in the year 1825. He was the first United States Ambassador to Mexico. Joel obtained the plants from their native area in the wilds of southern Mexico.

Like all members of plants in the Genus Euphorbia, the Poinsettia has white milky sap that may cause dermatitis or mild itchy rash in susceptible individuals.

Poinsettias should be placed near a sunny window where it will receive the most available amount of sunlight. Avoid exposing the plant near hot or cold drafts as these conditions may cause premature leaf drop. An ideal room temperature is between 65- and 70-degrees Fahrenheit. Check the soil for water daily. When the soil feels dry to the touch, you should water the Poinsettia until the water drains out of the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot or container.

Another holiday favorite of mine that thrives in normal household conditions is the Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera buckleyi). This popular houseplant is native to Brazil and is available in a wide variety of colors including red, rose, purple, lavender, peach, orange, cream and white.

In Brazil, the Christmas Cactus grows as epiphytes among tree branches in shady rain forests, and their pendulous stems make them a great choice for hanging baskets. Epiphytes are plants that grow on another plant but are not considered parasitic. Flowering can last up to 7 to 8 weeks if the plants are kept at 68 to 70-degrees Fahrenheit temperatures.

Thanksgiving Cactus (Schlumbergera truncate) are often sold as Christmas Cactus during the holiday season. To tell the two apart, look at the shape of the flattened stem segments, which are botanically called phylloclades.

On the Thanksgiving Cactus, these stem segments each have two to four saw-toothed serrations or projections along the margins. The stem margins on the Christmas Cactus are more rounded. A second method to distinguish between these two Schlumbergera species is based on the color of the pollen- bearing anthers, or male part of the flower. The anthers of the Thanksgiving Cactus are yellow, whereas the anthers on the Christmas Cactus are purplish brown.

Often holiday plants received as a gift or purchased come decorated with foil or a pot cover. Slit or cut holes in the bottom of these covers to allow for escape of excess water. Also discard any excess water that might accumulate in the saucer.

No matter what holiday plants adorn your household this festive season, may their bright, colorful flowers bring you hope, joy, and happiness.