FORT COLLINS, Colo. — For a plant so closely associated with one very specific month on the calendar, the unmistakable poinsettia comes with quite a plethora of fun facts.
Try these during your next holiday gathering:
- Native to the mountains around Mexico City, the plant derived its now-common English name when U.S. minister to Mexico Joel Roberts Poinsett introduced it to the States in the early 1800s.
- The Ecke family of Los Angeles became the first to mass-cultivate and market the plant in the United States; the family sent plants in December to The Tonight Show sets and Bob Hope Christmas Specials, a clever tactic that began the plant’s association with the holiday.
- And, despite popular belief, poinsettias are not poisonous to humans or your furry friends (see the video below).
Return of the poinsettias
Perhaps the most relevant fact for Front Range fans of the festive Flor de Noche Buena is that Colorado State University’s Horticulture Center will once again sell poinsettias grown by students.
Inside the state-of-the-art, 21,000-square-foot Horticulture Center on the south side of CSU’s Fort Collins campus, Steven Newman, greenhouse crops extension specialist and professor of floriculture, looks completely at home browsing this year’s poinsettias. He should be: Newman’s worked with the poinsettia program for a quarter-century.
“Of all the research we do here, I know this the most,” he notes, while examining the soft, colorful leaves of the plant.
But there’s a slight air of caution as he surveys the plants. After the new facility installed a new cutting-edge lighting system in late 2015, Newman noticed an adverse effect on the poinsettias, which are grown entirely on a hydroponic system. The plants require 12 hours of darkness a day to mature, but they were picking up faint light from neighboring greenhouses and failing to thrive. After a few years of experimenting, the program is back on, thanks to nightly efforts to block out light, including covering the plants and illuminated “Exit” sign after hours.
Sale benefits undergraduate program
Even though Newman admits the annual program’s popularity exceeded his expectations 25 years ago — what started out as a very small project “over the years, it got a little out of control” — he’s excited it’s back on this year, especially for the students.
“The primary reason [for this program] is education — to teach students how to grow,” he explains. “But sales also help pay for the undergrad program.” And during the giving season, that’s the best gift of all.
— Christopher Staten, Colorado State University
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