Poinsettias May Now Come In
Many Different Colors
Joel Poinsett was the United States ambassador to Mexico in the 1820s. He was impressed by the brilliant red blooms he saw while visiting the Taxco area of Mexico and sent some of these plants back to South Carolina. He began propagating them, sharing them with friends and botanical gardens. Thus was our favorite Christmas plant, the poinsettia, introduced to the United States and named after the man who brought them to this country.
It was the Ecke family of southern California who saw the potential for marketing poinsettias as a Christmas flower. The first generation of the family sold them from a street stand and, the second generation developed some grafting techniques. Their production of field-grown plants was shipped to greenhouses across the country.
These early poinsettias did not grow especially well in greenhouses, however. They became leggy and so were usually sold as cut flowers during the Christmas season. They also tended to fade quickly once they left the warm environment of the greenhouses.
Paul Ecke, Jr., the third generation member of the family, began developing special strains of poinsettias that could be grown and sold as potted plants. He promoted them widely as a Christmas flower, even appearing on television shows such as The Tonight Show. Today, there are poinsettias not only in the traditional brilliant red, but also in many other colors. (An interesting botanical side-note is that the colored “flowers” are not really flowers – they’re some of the leaves of the plant. The little yellow structures in the very center are the flowers.)
If you’re on a trip to southern California, you can see examples of many kinds of poinsettias at the Ecke’s greenhouses in Carlsbad, adjacent to the colorful Flower Fields.