Poinsettia growers respond to demand for designer colors

By Elliott Minor, Associated Press Writer
Friday December 28, 2001

ALBANY, Ga. – Poinsettias, the traditional Christmas plants, are changing to meet designer tastes. 

Red, white and pink varieties simply aren’t enough anymore. Greenhouses are coming out with a palette of new colors, many developed in Southern California and bearing names such as Plum Pudding, Strawberry and Cream, and Cortez Burgundy. 

University of Florida poinsettia specialist Jim Barrett says he is increasingly seeing buyers who want poinsettias with a different look to coordinate with the home decor. 

“Breeders have come up with many different colors and forms,” Barrett said. “Now we can take consumers into a greenhouse and they can see a lot of variation in the way poinsettias look. Most of the excitement now is with the new and different stuff.” 

The colorful “flowers” of the poinsettia are not really flowers at all. They are bracts — modified leaves that change from green to other colors. The actual poinsettia flowers resemble small yellow balls in the center of the bracts. 

A variety known as “Plum Pudding,” available to retailers for the first time this year, has been a huge success, Barrett said. It has purple bracts to blend with the growing use of purple and silver in Christmas decorations. 

In the “Strawberry and Cream” variety, the first bracts are strawberry pink and later ones have streaks of cream color. 

One of the popular new varieties, available commercially for the first time this year, is the “Winter Rose,” with red bracts that curl into the shape of rose petals. 

Vickie Collins, owner of the Lawn Barber Nursery near Albany, said she stocked a few of the rose variety this season and they quickly sold out. 

“We expect to do more next year,” said Collins, the leading poinsettia grower in the Albany area. Collins grew 8,000 poinsettias this year for churches, businesses and homeowners, and had only 300 left a few days before Christmas. 

Barrett said consumers rate the new colors and varieties very highly in surveys. 

The University of Florida is the nation’s main test site for poinsettia varieties and recently hosted a variety trial demonstration that featured 115 types. 

Many of the new varieties have been developed by the Paul Ecke Ranch of Encinitas, Calif., north of San Diego. The 75-year-old company is one of five major poinsettia breeders in the world — two in the United States and three in Germany. 

The ranch has produced more than 65 varieties that are sold to growers throughout North America. The Ecke poinsettias range in color from dark red to purple to champagne. 

It was the Ecke family that successfully promoted poinsettias as Christmas flowers by featuring them on the sets of popular televised Christmas specials in the 1960s and 1970s, and by promoting them in consumer and gardening magazines. 

“By the mid-1970s, poinsettias were pretty well looked upon by the general public as being a Christmas plant,” Barrett said. “It was their marketing effort that did it.” 

U.S. growers produce 75 to 80 million poinsettias a year, worth about $250 million. Poinsettias are the favorite flower for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s celebrations and the nation’s top-selling potted flower. 

“Early demand was greater than normal this year,” Barrett said. “With the economy slow, we believe retailers were trying to create a shopping atmosphere. Retailers were trying to foster that good feeling on the part of their customers.”