Selecting and Caring for Poinsettias in
Joel Poinsett, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, is
credited with introducing the plant to this country in 1828.
He raised the plants in his South Carolina greenhouse and
gave them to friends. National Poinsettia Day is celebrated
Dec. 12, the anniversary of Poinsett's death.
The red or otherwise colored bracts frame the plant's
actual flowers, which appear as yellow clusters at the
center of the bracts. The plant drops its bracts and leaves
soon after those flowers shed their pollen. For the
longest-lasting poinsettias, choose plants with little or no
yellow pollen showing.
Contrary to popular belief, poinsettias are not poisonous
to humans or pets.
Poinsettias are not frost- tolerant. They will grow
outdoors in temperate coastal climates, such as Southern
California beach communities. In the ground, they can reach
10 feet tall.
Paul Ecke Ranch (www.ecke.com) in San Diego County has
world's leading poinsettia hybridizer. Ecke Ranch was sold
several years ago but poinsettia research and promotion has
continued under the umbrella of company Dόmmen Group,
a business unit of DNA Green Group, one of the world's
leading young plants producers.
Growers also have seen orders spike since Thanksgiving. The
recession dropped poinsettia sales about 20 percent two
years ago, so growers cut production.
"We started out a little slower than last year," said Rocket
Farms' Brothers. "But after Thanksgiving, everything
doubled, then tripled, then boom! It was a major, major
change. Now everybody is ordering like crazy. Consumers are
buying poinsettias again."
Rocket Farms supplies several major California chains,
including Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Costco, Safeway,
Albertsons and Save Mart.
"The different colors (and combinations) sell better before
Thanksgiving," Brothers said. "As we get closer to
Christmas, the market shifts to almost 100 percent red or
red tones. People got to have that traditional red."
But even that shade of red is changing.
"Instead of the usual bright red, people are gravitating
toward deeper reds," Brothers said. "It's really a maroon.
Or they want a softer orange-red; a little different, but
In addition, the Salinas grower supplies poinsettias to
eight certified farmers markets and scores of nonprofit
groups such as churches, youth football teams and school
boosters that use poinsettia sales as annual fundraisers.
"Some of these groups sell 3,000 plants," Brothers noted.
"That's amazing to me."
A major poinsettia grower for 25 years, Rocket Farms devotes
about 3.5 million square feet of greenhouse space to the
Beginning in February, the grower starts with "mother
plants" from Ecke and European hybridizers Syngenta in the
Netherlands, and Selecta and Dummen in Germany. Repeated
cuttings from those original plants spawn 1.35 million
potted poinsettias (with three or more rooted cuttings per
pot) that Rocket Farms will sell during a
Poinsettias are the top-selling potted flowering plant in
the United States with sales exceeding $256 million in the
U.S., according to the
U.S. Department of Agriculture.
During the six-week holiday season between Thanksgiving and
Christmas, more than 75 million
poinsettias are sold, far outpacing chrysanthemums and
orchids, its next closest competitors.
As a result, breeders and growers are under intense pressure
to develop varieties that look spectacular, bloom at the
right time, ship well, satisfy consumers, and survive
outside nursery care.
The breeding on all plants, including poinsettias, is moving
at light speed If you don't keep updating your varieties and
making sure that you have the very best, you'll be left in
the dust," he said.
Poinsettias belong to the euphorbia family, a group of 3,000
plants distinguished by their milky white sap. The color
comes not from poinsettia's flowers but from its modified
leaves, called bracts.
Premium Picasso, Monet Twilight, Shimmer and Surprise the
names hardly sound like Santa, Frosty and Rudolph. But
they're as much a part of the Christmas celebration as
mistletoe and the Douglas fir.
Poinsettias a California holiday staple for generations
have come a long way in recent years as hybridizers have
developed exotic variations of the familiar flower.
National Poinsettia Day honors the man who first brought
this Aztec favorite to the attention of U.S. gardeners.
Today, poinsettias are the No. 1 potted plant in America.
The plants in stores aren't your grandma's poinsettias.
They're the result of state-of-the-art hybridizing and
research, both in California and Europe.
"Where's the pop? That's what we're looking for in
poinsettias," said Doug Brothers of Rocket Farms in Salinas,
which will send thousands of poinsettias to Sacramento-area
supermarkets. "We want the hottest and the best we can
About 70% of the potted poinsettias in the United
States and half of them worldwide got their start at Paul Ecke Ranch in Encinitas, just north of San Diego. Starting
in the 1920s with a Mexican native plant that grows wild
along Southern California's coastline, the Eckes developed
more than 100 new varieties.
Although it has moved much of its propagation to Guatemalan
greenhouses to cut costs, the family-owned company still
breeds its poinsettias in California, the No. 1 poinsettia
state (Ecke Farms was sold in 2012, however.)
Poinsettias sold in Sacramento stores are all
California-grown. Because flowering poinsettias can't
withstand shipping for more than two or three days, most are
still grown from cuttings close to their destination.