The revered holiday poinsettia is among the most-beautiful and significant flowering plants of the holiday season. Also known as the Christmas star or Christmas Flower, the poinsettia has history rich with tradition and meaning.

One of my favourite Christmas stories tells of the humble beginnings of the Mexican poinsettia flower. The story tells of a young girl named Pepita who cried on Christmas Eve at her lack of a gift for the newborn Christmas child.

Guided in her faith, she gathered some weeds together at the roadside. Her family taught her that even the most humble gift, presented in love, will be accepted by the Christ child. As she knelt at the altar, her meagre weeds blossomed into the most-beautiful bouquet of crimson-red flowers. The Flores de la noche Buena, flower of the holiday night, was born. Today we call this special plant the poinsettia flower.

Though most poinsettia plants are intended to be enjoyed just for the holiday season, the poinsettia will flower with a little extra care.

First, select a plant with healthy foliage close to the soil line. Look for plants with large bracts that extend over the lower green foliage of the plant. Try to choose a plant with small, tight green button-like flower parts in the centre of the bracts. These bracts will eventually develop into open flowers.

Place poinsettias in an area of your home or office that is protected from drastic temperature changes. Ideally, place this plant in temperatures between 20 and 24 degrees Celsius with little fluctuation between day and night. Allow your poinsettia to become dry between watering.

How do you keep your poinsettia going after Christmas?

Once the holidays have passed, move your plant to a cool, well-lit area of your home, and water regularly. Transplant the poinsettia to a larger container using sterilized organic potting soil with good drainage.

In early April, cut the plant back to 20 centimetres in height. By the end of May, you should see vigorous new growth. Prune over the summer to keep the plant bushy. Stop pruning the plant after Sept. 1.

Fertilize every two to three weeks using a water-soluble 20/20/20 solution. On Oct. 1, move the plant into total darkness (yes, a closet will work) for 14 hours every night. Poinsettia requires full sun for the remaining 10 daytime hours.

It’s a lot of work, but the results are definitely worth it. Continue to mist regularly. Your plant will come into full bloom by early December.

Why not celebrate the holiday season with a festive poinsettia plant. Around the world, people bring poinsettia plants into their homes and churches to celebrate the star that led the wise men and the little child Pepita to the Christ child.

This holiday season, surround yourself with a plant rich in history and sacred symbolism.