There is no plant or flower that says Christmas like the poinsettia. This is the time of year where everywhere you look, there is another red poinsettia – rows of them in grocery stores and one at every office or holiday party you visit. Eventually, you can just stop noticing them.
Last Friday, though, I think I saw more poinsettias in one hour than I had in my whole life (so, a lot of poinsettias). I was invited to the second annual Poinsettia Research Open House at Vineland Research and Innovation Centre to participate in a consumer trial. Located in Vineland Station, Ont., the centre works with the agricultural and horticultural industries, performing research that will lead to more sustainable practices and better products. Consumer trials help growers and breeders get reactions from the public before plants or produce reach retailers, and the feedback helps decide what will make it out of the greenhouses and into stores. Other recent consumer trials at Vineland Research and Innovation Centre have included dried fruits, wine, apples and peaches. The public is, of course, eager to participate and to get a glimpse (or taste) of what new improvements are being made to the plants and produce they see every day. Which brings me back to those poinsettias.
At this particular trial, people like me (and anyone else who is on their e-newsletter list or who saw the ad in the local paper) were given two slips of paper – one to write down three favourites, and one to list their two least favourites. I asked what the least favourites were last year, but alas, they wouldn’t tell me. They did share that when it comes to poinsettias, people always love the traditional reds and whites, perhaps because they are, after all, plants for Christmas, which is a time for tradition.
I spoke to Wayne Brown from the Ontario Ministry of Agricultural and Rural Affairs, the man responsible for growing the hundreds of poinsettias for the trial, while I was touring the greenhouses. He shared some history and insight into growing these “Christmas flowers.”
The research centre is one of three sites in North America that trials poinsettias every year (the other two are in Florida and North Carolina). There are five poinsettia breeders in the world who fund these trials, to have researchers test poinsettias under different conditions (light, soil, climate etc.) and to get feedback from local consumers and growers. The plants are grown from cuttings started in July. This year, 110 varieties came to Vineland, 58 of which were red.
Poinsettias are native to Mexico and South America, and Joel Poinsett, an American ambassador to Mexico, brought the plant to the U.S. (the Philadelphia Botanical Garden, to be exact) in 1825. They started being bred in the U.S., and it was the Ecke family in California, a major breeder, who started marketing them as a Christmas plant.
Poinsettias bloom just in time for the holiday season. They can live under the worst light conditions for three to four weeks, longer with more light. They need water about once a week, unless they’re in a really hot room. It turns out, they’re not all that toxic to pets. Their level of toxicity is not as high as often thought, and if your pet (or you, for that matter) were to chew on a leaf, the tingling sensation it would cause in your mouth would discourage any further ingestion. Indeed, Princess the cat, who was adopted and given a home at the centre, spends a lot of time in the greenhouses with Wayne and the hundreds of poinsettias. She got almost as much attention from the people touring the greenhouses as the poinsettias themselves. Almost.
GaMa recommends: Judith Adam’s tips on Caring for poinsettias