Poinsettia Power

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poinsettias

Imported to the United States by Joel Roberts Poinsett, a U.S. minister to Mexico in the early 19th century, the poinsettia has since become a Christmastime tradition for many Americans. In 1858, the U.S. Congress named Dec. 12 National Poinsettia Day to honor the deceased Poinsett and encourage citizens to appreciate the red-hued flower.

In the early 20th century, Albert Ecke and his young family immigrated to California from Germany. The Eckes raised dairy cows and pursued flower farming on the side, persuading local growers to cultivate poinsettias. “When Ecke came along, they started mass producing the flowers,” says Judy Mitchell, president and co-owner of Mitchell’s Nursery & Greenhouse in King.

The poinsettia’s popularity continued to grow – and so did the Eckes’ business. In the 1960s, Albert Ecke’s grandson, Paul Jr., took the poinsettia’s popularity to the next level. “TV was just coming into its own then, and he delivered big bunches of poinsettias to TV stations to give them more visibility,” Mitchell says. “Everyone saw them, and they became an instant hit for Christmas.”

Meanwhile, the Eckes and other growers were busy developing different varieties of the festive flower.

“Originally, poinsettias were three to four-feet tall, and it was Ecke who started breeding smaller varieties,” Mitchell says. Today, Mitchell’s Nursery & Greenhouse grows more than 8,000 poinsettias each year in around 100 varieties ranging from six to 18 inches tall.

poinsettias

“We have orange, green, yellowish white, various shades of red and pink, and yellow,” Mitchell says. “We have one called Gold Rush that’s a golden yellow, and there are also speckled varieties and some that have a little two-toned variation around the edge of each petal.”

While poinsettias are usually purchased in bloom, it’s possible to keep them healthy long after the holiday season concludes. “Start by giving them plenty of light,” Mitchell says. “Sunlight is best, but if you’ve got a good artificial light, they’ll be OK.”

Poinsettias need water when they get dry, but not too much – Mitchell recommends testing the weight of the pot before dousing the plant. “If the pot feels light, take it to your sink, water it and pour the extra water off after it soaks,” she says. “Leaving too much water in the pot can cause root rot.”

With patience and attention, poinsettias can also be convinced to bloom again.

“If the plant keeps its leaves, set it outside in the summertime,” Mitchell says. “Acclimate it a little, and eventually get it in full sun and keep it watered and fertilized through the summer.”

poinsettias

Toward summer’s end, Mitchell recommends bringing the poinsettia indoors. “At around the first of October, they need a long stretch of total darkness at night,” she says. “You could put your plant in a closet or put a box over it for about 12 hours at night, then pull it back out at daylight. It will bloom again close to Christmastime.”

Contrary to popular myth, poinsettias are not poisonous to pets or humans. In fact, the ancient Aztecs used the plant’s milky sap to make a fever-reducing medicine.

“Poinsettias don’t taste good, but they won’t hurt you,” says Mitchell. “We keep our dog in the greenhouse in the daytime, and it’s never gotten sick. They’re a whole lot less poisonous than something like a Christmas cactus. If you have other plants in your house, your pets should be fine around poinsettias.”

A few weeks before Christmas, Mitchell’s Nursery & Greenhouse hosts its annual poinsettia trials. “We usually set up a display with all our poinsettias by the end of November,” Mitchell says. “Then we will have a ballot so people can come in and vote for their favorites. We send that info back to the poinsettia breeders to let them know how the public has rated their poinsettias.”

This year, the greenhouse offers 81 varieties of poinsettia plants for review. “We try them out for these breeders and tell them how they perform,” Mitchell says. “We’re one of only two commercial greenhouses in North Carolina that do this, and there are only a few more in the nation who participate.”

poinsettias

Places to Find Poinsettias


Mitchell’s Nursery & Greenhouse Inc.
1088 W. Dalton Road
King, NC 27021
Phone: (336) 983-4107
mitchellsnurseryandgreenhouse.com
Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, closed Sunday. Open 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. on the first Sunday in December for their annual Poinsettia Open House.

Fairview Greenhouses & Garden Center
8224 Holly Springs Road
Raleigh, NC 27606
Phone: (919) 851-6821
fairviewgardencenter.com
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday

Homewood Nursery & Garden Center
10809 Honeycutt Road
Raleigh, NC 27614
Phone: (919) 847-0117
homewoodnursery.com
Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, closed Sunday

John Weddington Greenhouse 1975 Miller Road
China Grove, NC 28023
Phone: (704) 857-1846
Email: jwgreenhouse@rocketmail.com
Hours during poinsettia season (Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve): 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, closed Sunday

The Plant Place Gift and Garden Shop
6114 Market St.
Wilmington, NC 28405
gardencenterwilmington.com
Phone: (910) 791-9594
Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday

For a complete list of nurseries across the state selling poinsettias, visit ncfarmfresh.com.

– Jessica Leigh Brown 

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