The Case for Poinsettias

Garden Party

The poinsettia — that ubiquitous supermarket holiday plant — gets kind of a bad rap and has become a cliché symbol of the season. But it's actually an interesting plant, a euphorbia native to Mexico — the brightly colored bracts are in fact leaves, not petals. There are many varieties beyond the standard reds and pinks, and of course there are also many ways to display and treat your poinsettias to give them a fresh holiday look.

If you like the idea of using this traditional holiday botanical but don't want your house to look like every office lobby around, there are lots of ways to update your approach to decorating with poinsettias.

Here are just a few possibilities:

• Keep an eye out for unusual varieties. "Winter rose" (pictured in the second photo above) is one of my favorites…there's also a yellow called "lemon drop," and I always like the creamy white, which has a sophistication lacking in the traditional red. Certain hybrid varieties have curled leaf bracts or variegated foliage.

(By the way, a quick aside: In case you've heard the rumor that poinsettias are poisonous for pets, kids, and so on, do a little internet research on the subject and you'll discover that this does seem to be just a rumor. Evidently if ingested in huge quantities, poinsettias will cause digestive upset, but that's about it. I'm not going to claim to be an expert on the subject, but this does seem to be the prevailing wisdom now.)

• Consider cutting your poinsettia stems and displaying them in vases rather than pots. A single special "bloom" in a simple glass vase might make a more stylish impact than an entire poinsettia plant.

• Think about combining your poinsettias with other cut flowers in mixed bouquets. They'd be especially interesting with succulents or protea, the sculptural shapes of which might set off the more "expected" look of the poinsettia leaves.

• By all means, once you've brought your poinsettia home, if you want to keep the plant intact, stick it in a more interesting pot. The foil-covered plastic pots that often house them in the supermarket or nursery are cute in a kitschy kind of way, but for a more elegant display, consider a stone urn, or an earthenware pot, something with a more rustic texture.

• If you're feeling crafty, you might want to just forget the plant itself and play around with constructing poinsettia leaves from fabric or paper. Martha Stewart's crepe paper poinsettias (pictured in the top photo) are stunning, and I like the poinsettia ribbon wreath too (though it looks like a bit more of a commitment). Something about displaying a representation of a thing instead of the thing itself just seems more modern and less hackneyed. Then again, part of the beauty of the poinsettia is its living energy; maybe a mixed bouquet of actual bracts and crepe-paper ones would be just the thing?

Got any ideas for unexpected poinsettia displays? Please share below!

Images: Martha Stewart; Powell Gardens; Southern Living (3 and 4); Domino (5, 6, and 7); Martha Stewart