Today no flower says Christmas more than the poinsettia. This Mexican wildflower is the perfect color echo of holiday holly and its red berries.
Europeans are just as crazy about them as we are here in America. Paul Ecke Ranch grows 70 percent of our poinsettias and 50 percent of those sold worldwide.
Poinsettias are not cold tolerant so it comes as no surprise that southern California is an epicenter of research and development. Paul Ecke began selling them there as cut flowers in 1906. They were so popular that he devoted all his time to growing, breeding and distributing them. In 1920, he introduced a poinsettia that could be sold as a potted plant. His son continued to develop bushy, uniformly-sized plants that retain their colorful bracts longer.
Using television and popular women’s magazines, Paul Jr. put a lot of effort into marketing poinsettias. His efforts were so successful that poinsettias are now the most popular potted plant in the world. All production has been moved to Guatemala to reduce costs; however, at one time Ecke was producing them in Denmark as well as California. Now a third generation of the family continues to find new twists on this traditional favorite.
For those who like to force bulbs into flower during the winter, big-box retailers have plenty of kits for forcing amaryllis and paper white narcissi. These are just great because everything needed for the project is in the package. Just add water and sunlight and voila, a flower. Though the narcissi are pleasantly fragrant, my personal favorite is the spectacular amaryllis. If you allow the amaryllis foliage to grow and fade, the bulb may be planted in the garden.
Holiday flowers brighten the short wintery days of the new year, so a bulb forcing kit may be the perfect treat for a gardening friend.
Master gardener Ann Bartlett never lets winter get in the way of her rampageous horticultural habit.