Poinsettias: A History

Colorful poinsettia

In 1825, Joel Robert Poinsett, first U.S. ambassador to Mexico spotted what came to be known as the poinsettia. Poinsett had a passion for gardening and sent the plant to friends in the U.S. who immediately began to grow it. (Incidentally, Poinsett founded what we know today as the Smithsonian Institution-AWESOME!)

The poinsettia didn’t become popular until the 1920’s, when the clever father-son horticulturist duo Albert & Paul Ecke came up with a plan. They decided to call the poinsettia the “Christmas plant” and sell it at roadside stands in Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Soon, everyone who was anyone HAD to have one!  Because of their marketing, over 75 million poinsettias are now sold during the six week holiday season, making it the top selling potted flowering plant in the U.S.

What’s interesting to note is that in its natural state, a poinsettia can range in height from 2 to 16 feet, and its appearance is somewhat straggly and quite unlike the compact beauties that appear in stores each year around the holidays. The Ecke family discovered a way to keep the plant compact and bushy, something other growers did not find out until many years later.

Wanna Grow Your Own? It’s a bit of a process.  (you’ll need a greenhouse and some $$$) Poinsettia Schedule:

Step 1: In summer, cuttings (pieces of a “mother” plant) are delivered to a wholesale nursery where the plant tips are dipped into rooting hormone and planted into soil. The cuttings are misted for 30 minutes daily and kept at 70 F during the day and 60 F at night. Roots begin to grow in about 3-4 weeks.

Step 2: After a month, the plants are moved into pots.  As they grow, the branches are pruned (cutting plants back makes them bushy). Poinsettias are also sprayed with a plant growth hormone to regulate their height. This continuous cycle of pinching and spraying must be done until fall, although spraying is only done when needed.

Step 3: Starting on October 1st, the poinsettias need 14 continuous hours of complete darkness each night, alternating with 8-10 hours of bright light. This creates the colorful “flowers” (which are really modified leaves called bracts) that help attract pollinators like bees, wasps, flies.

Step 4: The plants are ready for sale to the public by Thanksgiving.

After reading about the process, you may decide to compost your poinsettia collection.  If you decide to keep the plant and try to get it to “color up,” follow the schedule I noted above. Good luck! Please send me an email and let me know how it goes. ;)

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One Response to Poinsettias: A History

  1. Pingback: Poinsettia care – Stanislaus Connections

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