It’s National Throw Away Your Old Poinsettia Day, and I want all of you to rid yourselves of those ghosts of Christmas past languishing on your desks, your windowsills and your dusty file cabinets.
You were too soft-hearted to do the right thing back around Valentine’s Day, which is to dump the fading poinsettia in favor of new, fresh and more lively flowers. You vowed to bring that homesick tropical euphorbia along through the year in our capricious northern clime, and gently coax it into bloom once more as Christmas came around again.
I have just two words for you: Forget it.
I’d be willing to bet money that you haven’t given your fussy little plant what it needed when it needed it. And unless you began promptly on Oct. 1 to provide 14 continuous hours of complete darkness every single night without fail, you have no chance whatever of getting another flower out of that thing. Ain’t gonna happen.
If you were really dedicated, you would have done it all differently.
You would have moved immediately after Christmas last year to California or Florida, the only places in the continental United States where your darling poinsettia might have thrived without artificial life support. But no — you selfishly stayed put, condemning your hapless Euphorbia pulcherrima to a long, lingering, but inevitable decline in the heated homes and droughty summers of the Northeast. Well, it’s over now.
Go seek out your pathetic poinsettia with its burden of leaves miniaturized by year-long neglect, swaddled in cobwebs, jaundiced and yellow — or missing entirely from twisted, naked stems. Thank it very much, but tell it its services will no longer be needed. Then give it the old heave-ho. Toss it in the compost or trash.
Some 60 million poinsettias are sold every year in the United States, and based on my statistical sampling, at least 2.5 percent of them are still hanging on in various stages of decrepitude. That’s 1.5 million ragged plants that need to be put out of their misery.
Just to prove a point one year, I toured one floor of my office building. No fewer than five poinsettias from last year cling to life beside computer terminals, on window sills and, in one case, on top of a communal refrigerator. All of them look beat up and not one of them looks pretty.
If we all toss our spent poinsettias together, America will be swept clean, and dawn will break over a nation no longer clinging to fading symbols of bygone occasions. You have a coast-to-coast support group out there today, with thousands and thousands of plant packrats just like you all screwing up their courage to engage in acts of poinsettia divestiture.
Before a critical word is heard, this season’s poinsettias — new and glorious, lush and healthy — will be flooding in. Since 75 percent of all poinsettias in North America and 50 percent worldwide come from a single source — the Paul Ecke Ranch in Encinitas, Calif. — your new one may well be a virtual clone of the old. You are merely clearing away one vestigial part of the Perpetual Poinsettia to display another sprout off the mother stock.
Poinsettia (poyn-set-tee-a) plants, native to Mexico, didn’t arrive in the United States until 1825, when Joel Robert Poinsett, our ambassador to Mexico, shipped them home to South Carolina. Nearly 100 years later in California, Albert Ecke and his son Paul launched a dogged and ultimately successful marketing campaign to make poinsettias an essential item of holiday decoration.
Still under family management, the Ecke ranch produces up to 75 million poinsettias annually, including ready-to-sell plants and propagation stock for commercial growers. They control the genetic material in much the same way that Dutch bulb growers have a lock on secrets of tulip culture. The Eckes will be happy to sell you, directly or indirectly, a fresh and blooming holiday plant.
If you act quickly, it can be in place by Dec. 12 — National (new) Poinsettia Day, created by an act of Congress to commemorate Ambassador Poinsett and his souvenir of service south of the border. Love your poinsettia while it lasts. And then let it go.