You know the holiday season is in full swing when Christmas Trees are sprouting up on big corner lots and at most big box stores. North Carolina is one of the top producers of Christmas Trees. The state is also a top producer of another holiday plant – the poinsettia.
First of all – North Carolina poinsettias are grown in-doors – in greenhouses. The conditions have to be just right. This is a tropical plant, you know. And the colors! Walking into a poinsettia greenhouse at N-C State is like walking into a candy store!
John Dole: "Gosh, that’s like asking me my favorite one, it’s like asking what’s your favorite kid, I just can’t do it."
Oh yes you can – it’s the kid that gets the best marks! John Dole heads the Department of Horticulture Science at N-C State. He knows which poinsettias get the best marks on their annual survey.
John Dole: "Ice Punch – it’s a red and white variety so people really enjoy the red but the white in it gives it a little bit different look."
And Ice Punch is just one of nearly 100 varieties of poinsettias grown this year in this greenhouse. There’s Cortez Burgundy, Bravo Bright Red, Ruby Frost, Jubilee White and even a Pink Cadillac. For more than 20 years – N-C State has been a site in The National Poinsettia Trial. Dole says Poinsettia breeders from around the world send their cuttings here in June.
John Dole: "When you go to a garden center, you will buy a locally grown plant but the plant might have been bred in Germany, the cutting might have been produced in California or Mexico, everything is international these days."
Martijin Kuiper slowly walks along the tables, leaning in close to inspect his company’s poinsettias. Beekenkamp Plants of The Netherlands produced its cuttings in Africa before sending 21 poinsettia varieties here.
Martijin Kuiper: "The North Carolina trials are really famous for the quality and a lot of big growers come here. Quite some big growers in North Carolina so it’s an important market for poinsettias."
At this time of the year, the poinsettia is the most important potted plant in the state. North Carolina produces close to four-and-a-half million poinsettias a year – generating 17-point-6 million dollars in cash receipts.
Joe Stoffregen: "We grow a little over 25,000 poinsettias here on-site. We sell about a thousand poinsettias a day between Thanksgiving and Christmas. So that’s how we’ll get rid of 25,000 poinsettias."
Joe Stoffregen is president of Homewood Nursery and Garden Center in north Raleigh. He says poinsettia sales are good, but not great. Five years ago, Homewood was selling 30 thousand of these mostly red holiday flowers. But Stoffregen says he doesn’t get the big orders from realtors and banks anymore. Most of the poinsettia sales here are walk-in customers and churches. So for the down economy – Stoffregen says they also grow the Baby Bloomer that costs less than five dollars.
Joe Stoffregen: "And it’s a little poinsettia, and it’s a lot less expensive and it’s still just as beautiful. We sell a lot of baby bloomers now."
Several people in Homewood’s “Christmas Store” are looking and shopping for poinsettias. Beth McAllister of Raleigh has selected three five inch poinsettias and placed them in the Radio Flyer wagon used as a shopping cart.
Inge: "So you’re buying three. Is this a tradition, do you usually get three or more, I don’t know, how many."
Beth McAllister: "I have in the past gotten more, but I’m downsizing a little bit. (Laugh) So I think these will be sufficient for the house."
McAllister is smitten with the Cortez Burgundy this year, which may go in her foyer.
Beth McAllister: "And I will say I do now have a green thumb, but I have more success with poinsettias where I place them, sometimes they last til June."
Poinsettia lovers – and families wanting to take their annual holiday picture with a colorful back-drop – can visit the J-C Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh this Sunday. That’s where you can vote on the poinsettia you like the best. And then the cycle starts all over again.