Different shades of pink are among the colors beginning to gain traction at various poinsettia trials.
Photo: Patrick Williams

For many growers, poinsettias are an essential crop. And throughout the fall, when growers are in the midst of selling this year’s poinsettias, they are planning for the next few years of growing seasons by attending and viewing the results from different trials around the country. Some are grower trials, such as those at N.G. Heimos Greenhouses in Millstadt, Illinois and at Plantpeddler in Cresco, Iowa. Other are researcher-led trials trials at land-grant universities.

Below, two academics — John Dole from North Carolina State University and George Grant from the University of Florida — answer questions about what they look for from trials at their universities.

Greenhouse Management: As a researcher, when you are evaluating a poinsettia — what makes a good poinsettia from your perspective?

John Dole: I look for a plant with strong upright branches to allow easy sleeving, uniform branching, sufficient medium to dark green foliage to fill out the plant, small to medium-sized cyathia clusters and attractive bracts. The definition of attractive bracts varies with the customer. I tend to prefer bracts that are held flat to slightly upright to allow easy sleeving and present a healthy turgid appearance. Having said that, some cultivars have large bracts that hang down, making very attractive balls of red that many customers love. Of course, there are many gorgeous novelty cultivars with various bract shapes, colors and thicknesses.   

GM: How have poinsettia genetics changed over the past few years?

JD: For many years, a primary focus was on getting novel genetics out to market as soon as [it was] practical. Now, the primary focus is developing a plant that is easy and reliable for growers to produce, but also attractive and one that customers want to buy. Of course, all of this comes back to the point that growers are looking for plants that will make a profit. Over the years, plants have become more compact, [with] earlier flowering, [and are] more uniform and more durable. Plants have also become more cold-tolerant both in terms of production temperature and postharvest temperature.

GM: What colors or types of poinsettias have been the most popular/highly rated at your trials over the past few years? Why do you think that is?

JD: At our consumer and industry open houses, novelty reds tend to get a lot of attention and votes. I think they attract attention because they have the traditional red and green colors, but do so in new and different ways. However, traditional red cultivars are still the main ones that sell in the stores and garden centers. For growers, they want attractive plants that are uniform and reliable to produce.

GM: How do you expect poinsettia genetics to change in the next few years?

JD: I think we will continue to see a focus on traits of importance to growers, while not ignoring that the plant needs to appeal to customers. Having said that, a wonderful new novelty color or shape might move the focus back to novelty for a while.

Pinching is a labor cost, so we might see self-branching cultivars that don’t need to be pinched to produce a full plant.

I think we will continue to see earlier flowering plants (allowing for shorter crop time and reduced cost) that are also vigorous enough to fill out larger pots. Currently, many of the early-flowering cultivars with short crop times are low vigor.

No one cultivar will do well in every region of the country. We will probably see more regionalization of cultivars, i.e. “Southern” Prestige, “Northern” Prestige, and “Western” Prestige.

It will be interesting to see where the hybrids fit into the market. They are gorgeous — will they expand the market or replace traditional cultivars?

GM: What differentiates a poinsettia that is good for a grower from a poinsettia that is good for a consumer?

JD: There is certainly a lot of overlap between a plant that is good for growers and one that is good for consumers. Consumers will be most focused on the appearance of the plant — color, plant size, bract appearance, etc. A good plant for a grower is one that looks great, sells well and is easy and predictable to grow. Thus, growers look at the plant appearance but that is just the start of their analysis. Does the plant root out well when cuttings are planted, does it break well, is it durable, does it have few physiological problems, is it responsive to growth retardants, is it resistant to phytotoxicity, etc.?

I will add that suppliers have another set of issues by which they evaluate poinsettias — do the stock plants produce a lot of cuttings, are the cuttings durable and easy to ship to rooting stations, do the cuttings root fast and uniformly, etc.?

Greenhouse Management: As a researcher, when you are evaluating a poinsettia — what makes a good poinsettia from your perspective?

George Grant: There are several characteristics I look for when evaluating poinsettia varieties. A “good” poinsettia variety ultimately needs to be relatively easy to grow from year to year. Depending on your region, some varieties are more appropriate to grow than others. I want to identify varieties that produce strong stems, a uniform branching habit, can be controlled with little to no plant growth regulator applications, and are resistant to heat delay in the southeast growing environment.

GM: How have poinsettia genetics changed over the past few years?

GG: Poinsettia breeding in recent years has focused on enhancing shelf life and stem strength in several ways. Shipping and handling of poinsettias can be very stressful, and quality can quickly decrease at this stage. Breeding efforts have been put toward reducing cyathia abscission and fading of bract color to ensure a positive customer experience. Breeders have addressed common issues amongst growers, such as stem breakage and product consistency, by selecting toward uniform branching, thicker stems and a “V”-shaped architecture.

GM: What colors or types of poinsettias have been the most popular/highly rated at your trials over the past few years? Why do you think that is?

GG: Standard red and white are always the most popular varieties of poinsettia because of their association with Christmas. There has been interest shown for some of the recently developed poinsettia hybrids. These hybrids provide a unique set of characteristics such as prolific branching, smaller bract sizes and bract colors ranging from purple to hot pink. There is an opportunity to market these new products toward holidays and purposes outside the Christmas season.

GM: How do you expect poinsettia genetics to change in the next few years?

GG: Growers are looking for varieties they can rely on and have a high level of versatility. Breeders have started to enhance genetics to develop varieties suitable for combination planters, small to large container sizes, have an excellent shelf-life and that can be grown across different regions. With these competitive advantages, I would not be surprised to see specific varieties that share these qualities become most popular with growers and dominate the market.

GM: What differentiates a poinsettia that is good for a grower from a poinsettia that is good for a consumer?

GG: An ideal poinsettia for a grower provides a quality product from start to finish and allows getting it in the customer’s hands with the fewest issues. These requirements include minimal spacing, responding well to plant growth regulator applications, handling transportation stress, and developing its color on time. An ideal poinsettia for a consumer provides a positive customer experience. This experience is dependent on the shelf-life of the plant or simply stated, how long does the plant maintain its glory from the moment it’s purchased. A poinsettia that takes longer to fade in bract color, drop cyathia (and bracts) and requires minimal maintenance under an average indoor environment is ideal for the consumer experience.