Thursday, December 2, 2010

Patrick's Picks: Poinsettias

Poinsettias now seem synonymous with the holidays, but we owe their existence as we know it to one man: Paul Ecke. Ecke, founder of the Paul Ecke Ranch in Encinitas, CA, was single-handedly responsible for hybridizing what had been a large gangly Mexican shrub into today’s potted poinsettia. Poinsettias are now the best-selling flowering plant in the world, and Ecke Ranch remains the industry’s heavyweight. Seventy percent of all rooted cuttings ordered by U.S. greenhouses come from Ecke; the company has 50 percent market share worldwide.

One of the highlights of my career was providing marketing communication consultation services to Ecke’s company—an experience that completely changed my perception of poinsettias. I always thought of them as mangled plants in plastic sleeves sold at local big box retailers, but Ecke showcased a stunning plant in many colors and forms with a broad range of decorating possibilities. So my family began a new Christmas tradition after my visit by going to a garden center to select plants for gifts and home. My recent mission was to find the most exciting colors and forms at Kansas City area garden centers for this holiday season.

Family Tree Nursery greenhouses in Kansas City, KS grow 44 varieties in eight pot sizes, totaling more than 22,000 plants for their three retail locations. Holly Ingle, the nursery’s head grower is a big fan of an early variety series with large, oak leaf-shaped bracts and foliage named Christmas Carol. In red, pink and white cultivars, it's a dark green-leaved variety, so the bracts are really set off against it. She says “I think it's very showy."
For those of you interested in something more unusual, Holly also likes Jester. "Traditionally, it has always been an interesting red, with its pointy, serrated bracts. It looks like it's off to a party!” she says, adding that there’s now a pink, too.

The manager of operations for the Heartland Nursery and Garden Center in Lee’s Summit, MO, Kevin Keilig says his favorites include a strong, heavily branched variety named Cortez Burgundy. The flowers (bracts) may not be as large as some varieties, but there are plenty of them, they last a long time and the dark burgundy makes for a dramatic impact. Kevin’s next choice falls in the “love it or leave it” category. The Winter Rose series is known for ruffled, semi-double bracts that look something like a rose bloom. The first cultivar, ‘Dark Red,’ generated a lot of excitement at its introduction because it retains colorful bracts for up to six months. Winter Rose Peppermint has the ruffled flower form with red and white speckled bracts. Any in this series could be an intriguing choice, good as a party conversation starter or a distinctive gift.

Heartland is also following the recent trend of combining poinsettias with euphorbia Diamond Frost. Proven Winners branded this combination of two plants in one pot as DiamondPoint™, and Kevin says both will flower well past the holidays. You can also bring in your Diamond Frost from the garden next season, shear it back and enjoy a beautiful houseplant all winter.

With all the choices, selecting a poinsettia can be overwhelming. Before you set off for the garden center, check out for a history of the plant and the Paul Ecke Ranch. Knowing more about how these beautiful plants came to be and all the options out there will surely enrich your own family tradition.

Patrick Muir is a Johnson County Master Gardener. He can be reached at or visit his blog at

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