Poinsettias are a holiday favorite. In one way or another, it seems everyone has been exposed to them. Whether it be on television or in Christmas movies, at church or in a grandparent’s house – when poinsettias are on display, it represents Christmastime.

But it is misleading to refer to their brilliant, red foliage as a flower. The bright red portions of the plant are simply leaves.

“The interesting thing about poinsettias is that their red leaves appear to be flowers,” Kim Thompson, a lecturer of environmental and plant biology, said. 

Poinsettias originate from Mexico, and their red and green leaves makes them an easy Christmas favorite. 

“You can regrow them in the right conditions and enjoy them after they holiday,” Thompson said. “They maintain their green foliage, but in order for them to bloom again, you have to overwinter them.”

Overwintering, like with many seasonal plants, is a long process. 

It takes about eight to 12 weeks of 12 to 15 hours a day of darkness in order to get the color to bloom again,” Thompson said. 

The overwintering process also requires poinsettias to be placed in a cool place; some may bury the plant in the ground, some may simply put it in the fridge.

Poinsettias may also be a hazard to small children or pets in the household, but they are not deadly. 

“Poinsettias are mildly toxic, irritating but not fatal,” Thompson said. 

Thompson said she sometimes buys poinsettias, as she likes the color and their longevity. However, she also keeps an alternative. 

“I personally keep a Norfolk pine,” Thompson said. “My family has had one for a long time. It’s a small tree you can keep up all year, and during Christmas you can decorate it with lights and ornaments.”

The holidays are a great time for Jack Neal Floral at 15 W. Union St., said Tasha Neal, an owner of Jack Neal Floral. 

“We’re looking forward to the holiday season,” Neal said. “It’s really exciting for us. It’s that time where everything in the store switches themes.”

Jack Neal will receive its annual poinsettia shipment sometime next week. 

“We do sell a lot. Sales have gone down over the years though, most likely because grocery stores and convenience,” Neal said. “Poinsettias can be difficult to care for and easy to kill, so some may buy them one year and get discouraged.”

Neal also said poinsettias can be finicky. 

“They require light, but not too much. They can’t be near a draft, so places near vents or windows or doors won’t work,” Neal said. “Watering them is iffy, too. They can’t be too dry or too wet. They are fragile as well.”

But buyers, amateur gardeners or plant enthusiasts shouldn’t quit trying with poinsettias. As a commercial flower, they are part of the buying cycle. Their beauty can be year-long and their seasonal blooms can be encouraged. Poinsettias can be a worthy investment. 

“They have beautiful foliage,” Neal said. 

Poinsettias are often used for Christmas displays in churches. 

“We’ve always used poinsettias,” said Nancy Sand, pastoral associate for the Catholic parishes of St. Paul Catholic Church, Sacred Heart Church and Christ the King University Parish. “I’ve been here 28 years, and they’ve been here as long as I can remember.

“Our liturgical color for Christmas is white,” Sand said. “Poinsettias just match the traditional Christmas colors, red and green. It’s more of a cultural than liturgical thing. But they’re beautiful flowers for the season.” 

Luckily, they do bloom in more colors than red. Poinsettias come in white, pink, red and more. White hybrids are put on display in her church, Sand said.

Now is a special time for the Catholic Church, as Advent began on Sunday. 

“Advent is a time for preparation. It’s a quiet time, where we’re getting ready for Christmas,” Sand said. 

Advent is a practice that leads up to Christmas. It symbolizes a waiting period for the birth of Christ. For parishioners, it is a time of reflection on the first coming of Christ.

“It’s supposed to be a joyful time too,” Sand said. “Right now the stage is looking pretty white and bare. We’re really just holding back for the big celebration at Christmas. So, when we set out the flowers and everything it means it’s full-on Christmas.”