Inside View: February 2012

February 07, 2012
Written by Gary Jones
As I ponder the topic of this new Inside View, the sounds of Christmas fill the air, and the malls and churches are filled with poinsettias. Another growing season is in the bag.

Some years ago (more than I should care to remember, really), I had the good fortune to visit the Paul Ecke Ranch in Encinitas during a road trip of the California ornamentals industry with a group of “lively” poinsettia growers from England. One of my lasting memories of the whole trip was meeting a charming older fellow who’d been working on developing a cut flower stem poinsettia. Through his efforts, Ecke was just proudly introducing “Winter Rose.” At the time, it seemed like a curious beast, but it at least seemed to be opening up a whole new market for an otherwise “commodity” product. Unknown to me at the time, however, this was not really a new product… far from it.

CUT POINSETTIAS WERE BIG AS FAR BACK AS A CENTURY AGO
According to the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers (ASCFG), as far back as some 100 years ago California was well known as the heart of cut flower poinsettia production. That’s right, cut flower poinsettias. (As a young limey from the other side of the pond, how was I to know?) Even after spending just a few weeks there, it was abundantly clear that southern California’s climate is ideally suited to cut flower production.

But poinsettias? Surely not.

Delving further into history, the “Ecke Poinsettia Manual” revealed that the first commercial use of the crop was Albert Ecke’s roadside stand in California. Later, poinsettias were used as a landscape shrub (still done this way to raise cutting material), and only much more recently did poinsettias develop as the familiar potted crop we all grow today. Indeed, until the development of compact, potted varieties, the plants were grown outdoors in large fields and shipped back to the eastern U.S. as cut stem flowers (www.growingformarket.com, February 2001).

Today, Ecke’s “Winter Rose” (sometimes alternatively known as “Renaissance”) is now a series of cultivars, including red, pink, marbled and a “Peppermint Twist.”

SEVERAL BREEDERS ARE NOW INVOLVED IN OFFERING CUT FLOWER VARIETIES
Ecke is not the only breeder with “purpose-built” (I hate to use the term “designer”) cultivars of cut flower “points.” For example, there is “Valentine” from Selecta, and “Twister” from Dummen.

These varieties do not have to be grown as “cuts,” but also make very attractive “novelty” varieties to broaden the poinsettia family. For example, three plants pinched in a 6” pot, with pot covers, bows and sleeves make a wonderful product. Even one plant pinched in a 4” pot, or one plant double pinched in a 6” pot could possibly do the trick too, although the latter would maybe mean three weeks of extra bench time.

And talking of broadening the product range, the regular 6” potted poinsettia has developed into anything from 2.5” to 10” pot sizes, pinched or un-pinched, singles, multiples, trees (‘standards’), mini-trees and even hanging baskets (but these are a pain to ship!). You might even want to search the web for examples of how poinsettia “flowers” (stem tops/bracts) can be used to make gift boxes using the cut flower types.

REGULAR POINSETTIA VARIETIES CAN ALSO BE USED IN ARRANGEMENTS
Regular poinsettias can also be used in flower arrangements, provided the cut stems are sealed somehow. “Cut the ‘blooms’ with at least four inches of stem. Immediately seal the cut end by dipping in boiling water or holding over a flame for 15 seconds. (Make sure hands are protected with a kitchen mitt.) Sealing prevents the sap from oozing from the cut, thus preventing the cut stem from wilting. ‘Blooms’ should last a week or more” if the cut end is in water or a wet florist block (www.oldhouseweb.com/gardening).

PERHAPS IT DOESN’T HAVE TO REMAIN A COMMODITY CROP?
So, what’s the point here? Well, we often see poinsettias (and many other crops) as a commodity product, providing work for staff in the winter but with little opportunity for providing the grower with a decent profit. Maybe that is true in many cases. But check through history books (or web pages!) and “new” ways of marketing can become apparent.

As mentioned earlier, there is a season for everything. But there is also a thought that “there is nothing new under the sun.” We can learn lots from those who went before us.

Gary Jones is chair of production horticulture at Kwantlen University, Langley, B.C. He sits on several industry committees and would
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