The poinsettia is the No. 1 flower at Christmas. And why not?  These head-turning beauties add a festive touch to your holiday decorations and make lovely gifts. 

Red is the most popular color, but you'll also find pink, white and specialities at nurseries, garden centers and stores. 

Here are some tips for choosing that perfect poinsettia:

1. Look for foliage down to the soil line, stiff stems, thoroughly colored bracts and fullness from all angles.

2. No signs of wilting, drooping or breakage. Avoid plants displayed in paper, mesh or plastic sleeves or plants crowded together for display. The longer the plant is sleeved, the more quickly it deteriorates. Crowding can cause premature bract loss due to lack of air flow.

3. Don't purchase a plant displayed near an entrance or heating/cooling source. Fluctuations in temperature can cause bract loss.

4. Moist soil, but not squishy.

5. When transporting the plant, protect it from cold winds and temperatures below 50 F. It should be inserted in a sleeve or roomy bag to cover the plant. Don't leave it in the car while you shop, either, or you could end up with a leafless twig plant. Unwrap when you arrive at home.

Follow these care tips:

Place plant in indirect sunlight for at least six hours daily. Diffuse direct sun with a sheer curtain.

Provide room temperatures between 68 and 70 F.

Water when the soil feels dry to the touch. Better yet, if the soil feels very nearly dry, water, because you're likely to forget and poinsettias don't like to dry out.

Don't place plants near cold drafts or excessive heat. Avoid placing plants near appliances, fireplaces or ventilating ducts.

Don't overwater your plant or allow it to sit in standing water. Always remove a plant from any decorative container before watering, and allow the water to drain completely.

Resist fertilizing the plant when it is in bloom.

And can we finally, forever, let go of the myth that poinsettias are toxic or poisonous?  Research shows that eating large amounts of any part of the plant is non-toxic. Poison Index Information Service reports that a 50-pound child would have to munch more than 500 bracts to surpass the experimental dose. Even at that level, there was no toxicity. At most, it's an upset stomach.


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