The Traveling Poinsettia

Friday, December 20, 2013
Poinsettias begin their life as four-inch long cuttings taken from stock plants selected for their superior qualities – great color, bract size, durability, pest resistance, and trucking tolerance. Those rooted cuttings hop a plane from California to growers around the world, including Mississippi. They arrive in September, get potted up, grown on, and coaxed into perfectly timed flowers in greenhouses across the state. Then they don protective paper sleeves for the truck ride to the garden center or other retail outlet where decorations are often added. Finally, you purchase the poinsettia and transport it home or have it delivered in yet another car or van. In the miles traveled from its native origins as a wild flower in Mexico, the poinsettia on your table has become a symbol to horticulturists of what can go right with a ‘new’ plant. Only 90 years ago, no one had heard of what’s now known as an American tradition for holiday decorating. With its natural appeal, great marketing, and 21st century breeding, poinsettias rule the holiday roost. Plant breeding may not sound like a hot topic for dinner table discussion, but its results are. Every time someone compliments you for the dazzling red poinsettia centerpiece, you can thank a breeder. Plant scientists choose the best color, form, and plant quality, then the marketing types work to keep ahead of popular trends. Perhaps above all, a poinsettia has to make the trip to your house without wilting, tearing, or breaking excessively and then survive the conditions there, too. Although dozens of varieties are available that meet this critieria, dozens more are discarded every year that don’t fit the bill. Retailers across our state offer poinsettias in tiny 2 inch pots, traditional tabletop sizes, huge baskets, and even trees, so there’s one for every gifter’s budget. 72% of all poinsettias sold boast red bracts, but other colors have their appeal, including solid pinks and whites and edged, streaked, or mottled combinations of red, white, and pink. The long and winding road from Mexico to Mississippi brings poinsettias to us with remarkable quality at reasonable prices, especially when you consider how far they’ve come to get home for the holidays.
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