Poinsettias, in many varieties, still THE Christmas plant

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 12, 2008

The poinsettia has been known as the official Christmas holiday plant since its introduction by Joel Poinsett in 1825.
Poinsettias are a major floral crop grown by Rowan County greenhouse producers. Growers start in early August with poinsettia plants produced from succulent cuttings. By early November, the holiday plant has evolved into mature and colorful holiday decoration.
Red is the predominant poinsettia color, but there is a virtual rainbow of colors ranging from deep purples to creamy whites. N.C. State University is an official testing site for a national breeding program.
Last week, both growers and consumers had the opportunity to view new cultivars and take a vote on their favorites. Freedom is a popular poinsettia cultivar best known for its strong, vibrant red color. Poinsettia cultivars are also available in a multitude of solid colors and blends. Jingle Bells, Plum Pudding, Marble, Holly Point, Pink Peppermint, Picasso and Winter Rose are other examples of varying poinsettia colors and shapes.
Poinsettias are photoperiodic plants or plants responding in both color and growth to day lengths or the amount of light they receive. The chlorophyll (green color) gradually disappears, revealing other color pigments as a result of waning daylight hours in early September. Color appears in the bracts or modified leaves beginning in early October.
The actual flowers are small, yellow clusters in the center of the bract whirl. Many often confuse the bracts or colorful leaves as the plant’s flowers. By Thanksgiving, the holiday season begins and most are at or near their peak color.
Some growers shade their plants to produce color quicker for retail markets, while others add light, extending the season of color throughout the holidays. Growers often photograph their crop on a weekly basis as a comparison to previous crops. Constant monitoring helps growers determine proper cultural practices to remain on schedule. Timing is crucial in poinsettia production.
Poinsettias also are a great buy for all the time and care that has gone into their production. These plants are produced as disposable plants and should be tossed after they decline later after the holiday season.
More information on poinsettia and care can be found at www.ces.ncsu. edu/depts/hort/floriculture /hils/HIL8508.pdf.
Darrell Blackwelder is an agricultural agent in charge of horticulture with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County; contact him at 704-216-8970 or go to www. rowanmastergardener.com.