Sunday, December 18, 2011

Poinsettias-Not Your Grandmother's Poinsettia!

Poinsettias are a traditional Christmas plant due to their red foliage.  They are part of the euphorbia family and have bracts rather than flowers.  The flower is the yellow part in the middle of the bract.  They can be a tricky crop to grow up in the northern climes mostly due to the need to regulate light. They need to be trimmed to promote a full shape and because in real life they can grow to be over 10’ tall their growth needs to be regulated.   Here at Countryside our poinsettias are grown at our growing facility at Garden Valley under natural light. At night all natural light must be reduced, even lights from street lights can throw off their natural inclination to bloom when receiving equal amounts of light and dark.  If we have lots of cloudy days so that they are getting more dark than light it not only keeps them from growing but also keeps them from coloring.  This year’s crop looks really nice.
Jana from the greenhouse staff is
ready to help you select the
 perfect poinsettia

Poinsettias are really a desert plant native to Central America.  The Aztecs used it to make a reddish-purple dye and it was long known as a “Christmas” plant even before it was noticed by Joel Poinsett, the US Ambassador to Mexico in the 1800s. A botanist by training, he sent samples to his home in the US and began breeding them.   The rest, as they say, is history.
Poinsettias aren't just red anymore
According to National Geographic  poinsettias were the top selling potted plant in 2001.  75 million were sold at a wholesale value of $256 million.  Today there are 5 major breeders of poinsettias, the most well known of which is the Paul Ecke Ranch of California.  2/3 of all poinsettias came from the Paul Ecke Ranch in that year. 

Kim helps Jean McDaniel select
poinsettias for her house
Through breeding programs there are now over 100 different varieties of poinsettias from which to choose.  There are bract color differences (red, white, pink, speckled) leaf color differences (dark green to even a lime green color) and even bloom time differences.   My personal favorite pink.  
Poinsettias make a great hostess gift and can brighten up a dreary winter with their bright flowering bracts.  They should continue to stay in color for many weeks.  When you bring them home place them where they will get indirect sunlight for about 6 hours a day.  Since they are a desert plant they prefer the soil on the dry side- water only when the soil feels dry and the pot feels light in weight.  Don’t panic if the leaves start to drop.  This is a natural reaction of the plant to a change in growing conditions.  It has gone from our sunny greenhouse to your darker house and is under some stress.  Though you may be tempted to water it, don’t.  Try finding a room with a little more sunlight.