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Poinsettia is a Christmas classic — and it thrives on the Central Coast

Colorful poinsettias on sale at Cal Poly

Cal Poly's annual poinsettia sale kicks off Friday, Nov. 30, and runs through mid-December at the Poly Plant Shop. Students have 4,191 plants available in dozens of varieties and colors. Prices range from $5 to $55.
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Cal Poly's annual poinsettia sale kicks off Friday, Nov. 30, and runs through mid-December at the Poly Plant Shop. Students have 4,191 plants available in dozens of varieties and colors. Prices range from $5 to $55.

Poinsettia

Euphorbia pulcherrima

Planting areas: Sunset Zones 13, 16 to 24.

Size: 10 feet tall by 6 feet wide.

Bloom season: Winter

Exposure: Partial sun.

Water needs: Water potted plants about once a week when soil is nearly dry.

Snapshot: Poinsettia’s brilliant colors and winter bloom cycle make it the perfect holiday hostess gift or decoration. The top selling holiday plant in the United States, it’s nearly as common as Christmas trees in December.

The plant’s leaves, known as bracts, acquire the striking colors for which poinsettia is known. More than 100 varieties are available, including red, white, pink, burgundy, marbled and speckled.

Most poinsettias are grown as indoor potted plants. Outdoors they can grow into leggy shrubs.

Poinsettias prefer temperatures above 60 degrees Fahrenheit but can survive temperatures as low as 50 degrees. They thrive in temperate areas such as California’s coastal zones.

But beware of where you put these beautiful plants. Poinsettias are poisonous.

The plant’s milky sap can irritate skin and eating the leaves can cause nausea and vomiting, so it’s best to keep poinsettia away from pets.

The poinsettia is named after Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, who discovered the plant in 1828 while visiting there. Poinsett collected cuttings and then shared them with friends back in the United States.

Hollywood farmer Paul Ecke recognized the poinsettia’s potential as a holiday flower and began growing the plant commercially in the early 20th century. He established a distribution network and, in 1923, moved operations to Encinitas.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that his son, Paul Ecke Jr., developed a grafting technique that turned the spindly shrub into its current lush, compact form. By promoting poinsettias on popular television shows such as “The Tonight Show” and Bob Hope Christmas specials, Ecke created an iconic Christmas flower.

Today, the Paul Ecke Ranch in Encinitas produces more than 70 percent of poinsettias sold in the United States and accounts for about 50 percent of worldwide sales. The family-owned company was sold in 2013 and is currently part of German horticultural giant Dummen Orange.

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