Poinsettias are Here

Poinsettias have started showing up…everywhere.  NC State plays a big role in bringing new cultivars to the marketplace and you can see what’s new at the JC Raulston Arboretum Poinsettia Open House on December 6th.  Find out more as Lise Jenkins talks with Dr. John Dole, department head for horticultural science at NC State and a poinsettia researcher.

Key Points

  • Poinsettias are native to Mexico and prefer temperatures no lower than 60 degrees
  • Breeding advances have produced a range of colors
 

 

Resources

  • JC Raulston Arboretum Schedule
  • NC State Floriculture Commercial Topics
  • Poinsettia Portal

 

 

TRANSCRIPT

JENKINS
It seems like they show up earlier each year.  There’s this lull between Halloween and Thanksgiving and then bam —they’re everywhere.  Wrapped in cellophane pots of green and gold —those Christmas Poinsettias.  My first reaction is always terror —all the things I haven’t done.  But their jolly red faces with yellow smiles  win me over and I get in the holiday sprit. Recently, I visited the JC Raulston Arboretum and learned that  North Carolina plays a big part in spreading that Christmas cheer.
DOLE
My name is John Dole, I am the department head for horticultural science. My other life I am a horticultural researcher and teacher and one of the projects I work on is poinsettias.
JENKINS
Last year 4.3 million pots of poinsettias were produced in our state and they had a wholesale value of over $17 million dollars.
DOLE
Its big business.  Its one of our most important potted flowering plants.  It has such a long sales season.  pretty much right after Thanksgiving to right up to Christmas.  People are buying and giving poinsettiasaway.  Of course, their used a lot for decorations in office buildings, malls.  Starting to see them out already,  So yes.
JENKINS
I’m standing in one of three greenhouses overflowing with over 1000 poinsettias.  I had no idea they could range in colors from snow white, blood red, to hot pink.  The bracts —the colored leaves of the plant, can be smooth like spears, or pointy like oak leaves.  They can be tiny with short steams or big and floppy.
DOLE
Oh, well the first bench right here is really great.  Well you can’t see it, but we have a lot of colors right here and that’s the first thing people notice right off.  Lots of colors.  The original Poinsettia which is native to Mexico, is a tall perennial shrub and it has red bracts.  Of course we are mostly familiar with red, that is the color that is Christmas.
JENKINS
These plants are in the greenhouse for the annual poinsettia trials conducted by NC State University.  Each year, new plants are introduced into the market.  Deciding which new variety to grow can be a risky decision and a big investment for North Carolina growers.  So the horticulture department conducts trials evaluating the color, bract shape, foliage, and performance of over a hundred cultivars each year.  Then they open up the greenhouses at the Raulston Arboretum to industry breeders, growers, and vendors to come and see the results for themselves.  Dr. Dole pointed out some things the pros look for.
DOLE
So within the red poinsettias what we look for is if you look at the shape of the bracts some are very rounded with no points on them, just a kind of long elongated bract.  Some of them look like oak leaves and the oak leaves are more like the original poinsettias in Mexico.  That has just a different look.  Some people like it, some people don’t, and the growers in the industry are always trying to second guess what it is people want.  That’s the combination of agriculture and fashion.
JENKINS
Fashion seems to be a big driver in this business and breeders are always looking for the next big thing that might capture shoppers’ attention.  Dr. Dole explained that while they may look so different, poinsettias are just one species.  Breeders started to change that by developing hybrid plants that produce amazing results.
DOLE
But a few years back the breeders were able to incorporate a second species into poinsettias which has produced these spectacular pinks.  If you look at them you can see some other differences also.  The bracts are smaller, they’re more elongated, there are some that are white, some that are pale pink, they just have a really different look. They just look more like a true flower.  So that’s probably been the biggest advance in the last few years has been the release of these hybrids.  Some of them are just so speculator.
JENKINS
Breeders hope that all these different colors might expand the market for poinsettias.
DOLE
That’s one of the hopes, because these gorgeous, gorgeous pinks are beautiful, but we don’t think of pink as Christmas color. So their market acceptance has been limited around Christmas.  We did some work with the “Love You” pink, which is one of the hybrids for October.  Getting it to flower for breast cancer awareness, just gorgeous plants, and they came out well.  Well also the spring holidays, the light pink is what we might think of more as Valentines Day.   So theres a chance that the poinsettiastype might become more broadly distributed across the season.
JENKINS
I was drawn to a fabulous hot pink plant.  It was the perfect shape, its bracts were outlined in white so you could appreciate each leaf, and the plant had dark green foliage.  I started envisioning ways to get my hands it for Mother’s Day.  I just have to keep it alive until then.
DOLE
They’re a good indoor plant they last a long time, there’s no reason, other than the fact that we so strongly associate them with Christmas, that we should not be buying them for other holidays because they do last a long time.
JENKINS
The appearance of any plant has a lot to do with its environment. When the poinsettia trials are opened to industry the plants are displayed in a variety of settings.  But then Dr. Dole takes it a step further and continues his research at home.
DOLE
Part of our open house is we put poinsettias in to our post harvest building.  In that we have florescent lights cause the color of red, and pink in particular, and well white for that matter.  It changes depending on what light its under.  In the greenhouse we have lots of natural sunlight which all the colors look good under.  But when you bring them indoors the quality of the light makes the colors look very different.  And so, that’s part of our open house is the growers will come in and see how they look inside. The light inside my home is a little different still so, it has more warmer tones and so I like to see how they look there.  To see how they last.  And I like poinsettias.  I did my PhD on them and I worked for a professor when I was an undergrad and I helped him on his poinsettia work and they are a fascinating plant.  They have a lot of botanical quirks that we don’t find in any other plant.  So they’re just a real cool plant so I like them.  So yes, I will be brining lots of poinsettiashome
JENKINS
NC State  researchers are looking for more than just a pretty plant.
DOLE
In addition to the cultivar trials we do other research on them because we have all of these different cultivars coming in and we take, especially the more important ones, and we’ll do other work on them.  We may look for different ways of growing them, ways to grow them faster, cheaper easier.  We sometimes will do various pest control methods.  The big experiement we have this year is going to be on post harvest.  We are taking a broad range of the cultivars and then we are going to see how long they last.  They in general last a very long time but there is some variation.  And we’re trying to look to see.  You asked the question of what should the consumer do with them.  Well the question is also out there as to how the retailers should sell them.  So that’s what we are going to be looking at.  Under what conditions should the poinsettiasbe sold and if they can’t provide just the right conditions how much life can they expect. If they can’t give them enough light, then what happens, if they give them too cold of temps then what happens?  That sort of thing.  So we’ll be trying to generate info that the retailers can use when they sell and distribute the poinsettias.
JENKINS
Dr. Dole had done his PhD work on poinsettias.  I realized this was my chance to get expert advice on how to keep them alive through the holidays.
DOLE
They’re very simple, they’re one of our more durable plant in the sense of if you give them a good location they will last a long time.  Generally what you want is a nice bright location, you want them out of direct sun, and you want it in a cool, but not cold room. Poinsettiasare a tropical plant so they get kind of cranky below 60 degrees.  Now luckily people tend to get kind of cranky below 60 degrees so they are actually very well matched to what we live in.  So if you’re one of those who keeps your house on the cool side, then if you have a nice bright location, chances are your poinsettiaswill last a long time until finally you get tired of them and throw them away.
JENKINS
How do I select a healthy plant?
DOLE
You want to look for, you check the bracts out.  Make sure they’re nice and fresh.  Look for any discolorations on the bracts, you don’t want to see that.  Check the leaves out, you want to make sure the leaves are nice green.  You aren’t starting to see any of the yellow leaves down below.  Which indicates the plant might be starting to get a bit old.  If you look at the center of the plant you will see the little round flower buds.  Which you want to do on some of the flower buds, you’ll start to see some of the stamens starting to come out the little fuzzy parts.  And what you want to do, you want a few stamens but you don’t want all the flowers to be showing lots of stamens.  Sometimes if they are very old you’ll start to see the seed pods coming out. You want to get a plant that’s younger than that so it will last a bit longer.  In general that should do it.  As you’re bringing it home, they are a tropical plant.  So cold weather, if you are going to be doing a lot of shopping you know and the temp is at freezing or close to freezing then you are going to want to be sure to get your poinsettiasin the last part of the day or get them and bring them home.  Get them and bring them home. Don’t let them sit in a cold car.  Because that will cause the lower leaves to fall off.  If its really cold you will get brown patches on the bracts.  Which is known as chilling damage.  On the other hand, occasionally we are blessed with these wonderfully warm days in Dec.  North Carolina is a great place for weather.  And the car can get really hot in which case they can overheat.  In which case you need to crack the windows so it doesn’t get too hot. So they are living organisms so yeah, we don’t want to let them sit in a cold, cold car or hot car.
JENKINS
I asked Dr. Dole if plant breeders had reached the limits of ways they could change poinsettias.
DOLE
It just surprises me that after all these years and as much plant exploration has gone on, as much plant breeding that’s going on, there are still new things that surprise me and excite me.  You know, when these poinsettiahybrids came out it was just wow, those are different and stunning.  Pack trails, spring, takes place in California, that’s where the industry releases its new material.  Even though I’ve been going for many years every year I always find something that I just didn’t expect.  You know the creativity of growers and breeders in the industry is just a lot of fun.  So I think its every year something catches me off guard.  In a good way.
JENKINS
At the conclusion of the trails, the JC Raulston Arboretum has an open house for the public where you can go and check out what could be coming to a garden center near you.  Check our website, gettingdirtyradioshow.org for their schedule.  I’m Lise Jenkins and I’m a Durham County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer.
 #johndole #poinsettia #jcraulstonarboretum #gettingdirtyradioshow

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