Christmas color: Rowan County growers have a multitude of poinsettia varieties

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 7, 2018

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oinsettias were introduced in 1825 as a gift from the ambassador to Mexico and their legacy now thrives as the official Christmas holiday plant. Poinsettias are a major floral crop grown by Rowan County greenhouse producers. By early November, the holiday plant has evolved into a mature and colorful decoration.

Red is the predominant poinsettia color, however, there is a virtual rainbow of colors ranging from deep purples to creamy whites. Did you know there are scores of different varieties and types available for the market? North Carolina ranks second nationally in poinsettia production with N.C. State University as an official testing site for a national breeding selection program. Last week, I had a chance to visit one of five national poinsettia trial greenhouses dedicated to testing new cultivars. Both growers and consumers had the opportunity to view new cultivars and take a vote on their favorites.

The poinsettia trial featuring 92 different varieties of all colors shapes and blends was held at Mitchell’s Nursery and Greenhouse in King, N.C. It’s difficult to describe the multitude of color variations ranging from deep reds to brilliant whites. A vast array of vivid colors was the dominant trait featured in the trial, but also tested were plant compactness, leaf shape and longevity of bloom.

Poinsettias are photoperiodic plants responding in both color and growth to daylengths or the amount of light it receives. The chlorophyll (green color) gradually disappears revealing other color pigments because 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 plants 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 of previous crops. Constant monitoring helps growers determine proper cultural practices to remain on schedule. Timing is crucial in poinsettia production.

Poinsettias are a great buy for the time and care that goes into their production. These plants are produced to be disposable and should be tossed after they decline following the holiday season.

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