UF Expert Evaluates Colorful New Holiday Plants
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Don’t be surprised to find a red elf in your house this holiday season.
No, it isn’t Santa, blushing after drinking too much eggnog. Red Elf is the name of one of more than 30 new varieties of poinsettia plant available this year, said University of Florida horticulturist James Barrett.
Barrett, a professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences who evaluates new plant varieties for poinsettia breeders, said recent poinsettia naming trends follow a Christmas theme.
“Very frequently, older names didn’t have any connection to Christmas – you had names like Freedom, C-1 and V-14,” he said. “This year, we have varieties like Christmas Wish, Candle Light and Christmas Dream. We also have a nice variety named Chianti, and one named Merlot, so you have another kind of theme there.”
Red is definitely the most popular poinsettia color, Barrett said, accounting for 75 percent of all poinsettias produced.
“Christmas is an emotional season, and people have a real strong attachment to traditional, red-and-green plants,” he said. “Most people look at traditional poinsettias and don’t see the differences, but there are a lot of different leaf shapes and shades of red.”
For those wanting something different, Barrett said plant breeders have been producing more novelty varieties during the past five or six years.
“The yellow-and-green Holly Point is one example,” he said. “Even though it differs from the red-and-green varieties people traditionally associate with Christmas, it still makes a nice decoration because it resembles holly.”
Barrett said novelty poinsettias can polarize plant lovers.
“I jokingly refer to the purple-colored variety Plum Pudding as the politics plant – opinions on it are like Republicans and Democrats, split right down the middle,” he said. “But people that like it will pay a lot more money for it – which is justified, as it is more difficult to grow and there are fewer of them produced.”
Poinsettias are typically produced and sold for holidays like Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day and Easter, but Christmas is by far the largest, Barrett said.
“There are about 75 million poinsettias produced every year in the United States, and they’re all sold within about a six-week period,” he said. “Poinsettias are the most popular flowering potted plant in the United States – the wholesale value of last year’s crop was $256 million. For the greenhouse industry, this is a very important crop.”
Barrett said there are five major poinsettia breeders in the world. Every year they hire experts at UF, North Carolina State University and Purdue University to cooperatively evaluate new varieties.
“The reason for this is poinsettias will look and perform very differently in different environments, so a California or European breeder can develop a variety there, but not know how it’ll perform here,” he said. “I spend quite a bit of time visiting growers all over the United States, which allows us to tell other growers which varieties will be easiest to grow and which will produce an attractive plant.”