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Wild poinsettia —?one beautiful native weed

September 6, 2013
By H.I. JEAN SHIELDS - Garden Club of Cape Coral , Cape Coral Daily Breeze


I suppose every gardener has his or her favorite weed. Think about it. Isn't there something growing that is an unplanned drop-in? Something that while colorful, is not really what you wanted where it is growing?

Maybe it is not even colorful, but just grows out of its allotted garden space. How many extra ferns do you have, or potato vines?

I love the unruly potato vine, in all its colors of dark wine, chartreuse, light green and even the attractive multi-colored kind. I let it creep right over my front walkway. It is real easy to do here because hardly anyone uses the front walkway. When I trim it, I donate it.

It is always a conversation piece to strangers, who are not gardeners and admire the shear spread of it. I am not sure the UPS man really admires it, however he recently delivered three large boxes, two days in a row, and not one leaf had been stepped on. I wonder if he is a gardener at heart or just a little afraid it might attack him.

My beautiful native weed is the wild poinsettia. Not all of the likeable weeds are native, of course. Gardeners who want to know what is native, or what is invasive should look on their computers. It is easy and I do not have the space to list everything.

Listing all of those things is difficult anyway because some things that are invasive in one state are fine in another state. Some gardening people do not have their facts straight and get all excited over nothing. If you think politics and taxes can start a big hot exchange of ideas, try talking invasive, weed, toxic and poisonous flora and fauna with a group of gardeners.

I know poinsettias are the talk of the town in December. However the willful, more delicate wild poinsettias are the subject right now. They abound in one place or another most of the year but this hot wet season is their real true paradise.

They pull out from the soil easily with just a small tug, root and all. There are over 7,000 different species. I really did not realize that we had more than one species right here in our neighborhood, until last week.

A gardener new to this area, not even a year yet, asked me to look at a plant that she was not sure was a poinsettia or what. I was not sure at first because it was not the single stemmed, delicate plant I was used to. It only had one leaf with the red painted splash I was used to and the terminal little balls of green did not seem to have any yellow and, in fact, there was a big handful of them and the stem had branched out with several other packed terminal ends. The cluster is the actual flower, the red painted leaves are just for beauty and probably for attracting a bee or a butterfly, or even the Ello Sphinx Moth.

The green leaves at the top looked oval and like the plant I was used to but the other leaves seemed firmer and had the indented sides that give it a fiddle look.

Someone had told her that they thought it was a Carolina drop-in. Well, that is kind of a long drop, even if we are lower here than there.

Some research on my part seems to prove that her plant is indeed a poinsettia, which is the usual euphorbiaceae or spurge family, and the species is Hetepophylla.

These indeed do seem to be more common north of us, like Georgia. They are also called oldladyhoo or booplants. Not really sure how the names connects with the plant, but nature and humans do have some weird connections.

An interesting note is that these pretty plants are a big problem as they insist on springing up in commercial fields of peanut growers and they actually will affect, unfavorably, the amount of the yield of these fields. Not a good thing.

No herbicide works well enough to get ride of the poinsettia, especially in close quarters to the peanut crop. It is almost impossible to keep them out no matter what they do. However, believe me, they are working hard to come up with a scheme to destroy those poinsettias.

Now that I know about the plants popping up all over the fields, maybe that is why they got their nickname of booplants. Would this make them a good candidate to be an official Halloween flower? I guess not in Georgia. This idea might not strike an unhappy peanut farmer as humorous.

I would like to further inform you that our more delicate poinsettia, which has a very delicate flower terminal of green and yellow, and surrounded with the red almost painted leaf, is the species Cyathophora.

Also of interest is the fact that my friend has both of these wild poinsettias growing in and around her row of bougainvillea. She is not really impressed to have two or even one species anywhere in the yard.

She is new here from Michigan and there are plenty of things growing down here that are way different. Her husband thinks the grass grows too fast also.

In case someone does not know, these poinsettias grow in sun or shade, like damp soil and all parts of them are poisonous when ingested. You can easily pull them out without getting any of their white sap on you, however if you do, wipe or wash it off in case it might irritate your skin. I myself have no problem.

These plants are named after Joel Roberts Poinsett. They are related to our dear cultivated Christmas poinsettia.

Now that Labor Day is over, we can look forward to the next fun day, or maybe I should say night, Halloween, at the end of October.

We may have some not so fun days in September if we end up having a passing hurricane. You need to remember they are still a possibility and keep abreast of weather predictions. Hurricanes are capricious friends of Mother Nature and need to be watched carefully.

In the meantime, sunscreen and umbrellas as well as mosquito protection are still necessary as we slowly wind up our summer season.

Fertilize smart until Sept. 30 when our fertilize ordinance ends.

Check garden centers for sales as our rainy season comes to an end, and let the rains water in a nice tree or a few new bushes.

Happy gardening till we meet again.

H.I. Jean Shields is a past president of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.



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