Poinsettias get you in the mood for Christmas

Mexico gave us the Aztecs, the delicious tacos and very large hats. It also gave us Euphorbia pulcherrima, which is now as closely linked to Christmas as the holly, ivy, turkey, and black cake. In Europe and North America production of the poinsettia is worth hundreds of millions of dollars each year. The process of initiating flower production starts to happen in August and September when cuttings from stock plants are rooted in mist propagators and grown on for marketing in December. The main flower initiation starts at the autumn equinox, and some in mid-August, and those glorious red flowers appear about ten, eleven, twelve or thirteen weeks later depending on the variety. When this happens any of these varieties will produce flowers too early for Christmas, and so growers manipulate the day length to delay the onset of flowering so that it‘s just right for Christmas. This means giving a whole range of varieties more than 14 hours daylight until 10, 11, 12, or 13, weeks before they are ready for marketing, and then immediately reducing the day length to less than 12 hours of light to start them colouring. I know that many gardeners have tried to hold over plants for a year or so to try and repeat this process, but I have never found this to be really satisfactory, and always buy new plants each year during November or early December. They are really quite beautiful and get you in the mood for Christmas.

A group of plants which particularly loves the sun and is tolerant of salt air are the Sansevieria, or Bowstring hemps. Sansevieria have strong creeping underground stems which will colonize quite large areas if allowed to go unchecked. There are a surprising large number of them to be seen in and about Georgetown and, in fact throughout the region. Like the aloe it is an African plant and can be found from Cairo to Cape Town its range is so vast.  The roots are strong enough to break even the strongest plastic pots and even some of the less well-made concrete and clay pots.  However its redeeming features more than offset its disadvantages, and there are very many attractive forms to be found, several with attractive leaf markings like Sansevieria kirkii and some with cylindrical stems like Sansevieria cylindrica. Many are quite large and will grow to a height of three feet or a little more. Others like Sansevieria hanni hug the ground and will form quite large clumps.

The third and last group of what may be described as drought-loving plants are the agaves. The aloes and Sansevieria are African plants. The agaves are from the warmer parts of the American continent. These plants are not only tolerant of sun, dry conditions and salt air but are armed with very, very sharp points at the ends of the leaves. This device makes them very useful as a barrier against grazing cattle, stray dogs and stray humans as well. They are called the century plant This is because they live for a very long time and after several years (normally between ten or twenty years growth) they will quite suddenly throw up a long pole bearing flowers at the end, and sometimes even small plantlets. The variegated types are very popular in the islands particularly Agave americana which is variegated with green and yellow leaves, and the beautiful blue leaved Agave franzosinni which forms a very large and handsome plant up to five or six foot high. The common denominator in all these is their need for plenty of sunshine, fairly dry conditions, salt air tolerance and their low maintenance requirements.

Until next week may your God go with you.

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