Poinsettias Are Getting Better, More Colorful, All The Time

Published: December 18 1997

Category:Agriculture, Research

GAINESVILLE—When it comes to poinsettias, red can’t be beat, University of Florida poinsettia researchers say.

And the names with which poinsettias are christened show the plant’s true holiday spirit: Jingle Bells, Nutcracker, Candy Cane, Jolly Red.

But consumers’ love of red makes the flower industry see green. About $250 million a year worth of green to be exact.

“Poinsettias are a Christmas plant and being that, red is an important color,” said Jim Barrett, a horticulturist in UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. “About 75 percent of poinsettias sold in the United States are red. However, recently more of the breeders are looking for novelty types and colors.”

That’s where UF poinsettia specialists come in. As new varieties are developed, breeders ask UF horticulturists to evaluate them. Of the 66 varieties of poinsettias available, half were developed in the last three years and 10 are new on the market this year alone.

“In the poinsettia world, that’s incredible,” Barrett said.

“Breeders are introducing new varieties so quickly that it is impossible for growers to evaluate them and determine which are best for the general public,” he said. “So we do variety trials and let the growers know which newcomers to look at more closely.”

The evaluations by UF poinsettia specialists are important because not all varieties will fare well once a consumer carts them home. Aesthetically, the plants are easy to evaluate. But practical considerations are important. Are the branches strong? Does handling or shipping bruise the bracts, the colorful leaves most consumers think of as flowers?

While consumers probably won’t be able to ask for a variety by name, they can be assured they are getting better, hardier poinsettias than those they bought in Christmases past, Barrett said.

“The news with the new varieties is that they flower a little later, after Thanksgiving, and are a better buy and will hold up better in a consumer’s home,” Barrett said. “The leaves will stay on, and the bracts will stay a nice bright red or other color through the holiday period.”

Not only are poinsettias the single most popular Christmas plant, they are the top-selling flowering potted plant nationally each year. Impressive for a plant whose market window extends only from mid-November through December, Barrett says.

Red poinsettias used to account for about 90 percent of all those sold, but their share of the market has dropped. Peaches, mauves, and marbled varieties are becoming more popular with avant-garde consumers and with those who just want to match a sofa, wall or carpet, Barrett said. And many religious groups prefer the creamy, white poinsettias, he said.

“The whites are brighter this year, and the pinks are stronger, not faded,” Barrett said. “There are interesting novelty varieties out there like Monet, which has a nice flecking of white and pink.”

To those who are 40 or younger, it might seem as if poinsettias have always been a part of Christmas, although older folks remember holidays without them. The dominant poinsettia company, Ecke Ranch, is responsible for the widespread use of poinsettias today.

“The real marketing started back in the ’50s and ’60s with the Dinah Shore and Johnny Carson Christmas shows,” Barrett said. “Ecke gave them bunches of plants and made sure they had enough poinsettias to cover the stage, and poinsettias took off.”

While the poinsettia’s most ardent fans point out that the colors make it ideal for use in holidays such as Easter and Mother’s Day, Barrett said he thinks it best to leave well enough alone. In France, he said, poinsettias are sold year-round, but those sales are not greater than the number sold during Christmas in the United States.

“The flower industry already does well with roses for Valentine’s Day, lilies at Easter and mums for Mother’s Day,” Barrett said. “The marketing of poinsettias has been so successful that it’s a real success story in the flower industry.

“Poinsettias are the single most important flowering potted plant in the United States, with 70 million sold each year,” Barrett said. “Poinsettias don’t need the other holidays.”


Cindy Spence

Category:Agriculture, Research