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12/1 Plant of the Week- Poinsettias

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Albert Ecke arrived in Hollywood, California in 1900, intending to make a brief stop on the way to Fiji. The Ecke family owned a health spa in Europe, and Albert intended to open a similar business when he got to Fiji. Albert Ecke made his stay in California permanent in 1906. He established an orchard and dairy farm but his real love was flowers and grew several varieties Albert Ecke, and his son, Paul, became interested in the tall, leggy red plant that grew wild throughout the area after it was introduced from Mexico. They spent their lives selecting, developing and promoting the poinsettia. The plants bloomed naturally during the winter, near the holiday season. Paul got the notion that this would make an ideal official holiday flower. The question that remained was how to promote and market a plant that most people had never heard of or even seen? Until the mid 1960's, Ecke’s main business was producing field-grown poinsettia mother plants. The plants were dug shipped via railroad boxcars to growers across the country. The original shrub-type poinsettias were not particularly adaptable as an interior plant. They were leggy, easily lost the colored bracts, and faded quickly outside a controlled greenhouse environment. Paul's son, Paul Ecke Jr., joined his father in the business in 1963. Poinsettia breeding yielded the first commercial-quality cultivars that grew best as potted plants. He encouraged his father to move toward greenhouse culture. Though skeptical of such a radical change, Paul Sr. agreed, and the family began building greenhouses. By the mid-1960s, most of the Ranch's commercial growing operations had shifted from the field to the greenhouse. Rather than shipping large dormant mother plants via rail cars, the Ranch could now ship much smaller poinsettia cuttings by air throughout the world. When I last visited the Ranch, they had many different greenhouses devoted to the crops. The most interesting to me was the breeding trial where new varieties are developed. Each year more than 10,000 crosses are made, hoping to get one or two that will become commercially successful. These greenhouses are where most of the exciting new varieties we enjoy each year are developed. Old favorites and new introductions include the traditional red and new Trademarked varieties like Bright Red, Rose, Hot Pink, Jingle Bells, Marble, Orange, Peach, Monet, Twilight, Cranberry Punch, Candy Cane, Snowcap, Jingle Bells, Maren and Marblestar Paul Jr.’s vision of what the poinsettia could be plant drove him to tirelessly promote the plant through television and print promotions. Poinsettia production of field grown blooming plants started and plants were sold at roadside stands in the Hollywood and Beverly Hills area. Hollywood became more developed so Eckes moved to Encinitas. It offered little in the way of amenities, but it did offer a nearly identical climate to that where the native Mexican plants grew wild. The ranch is still at this location and makes a most interesting place to visit. When you drive to the greenhouse areas you can still see some of the original plants at the ranch today. They bloom each December as a living reminder of the Ecke Ranch heritage. If you would like additional information on poinsettia varieties, please check my website at When choosing plants, look for those with thoroughly colored and expanded bracts. (Bracts are the colored portions of the plant, while the actual flowers are the yellow centers). Avoid those that are too green around the bract edges. The best plants have plentiful, dense foliage clear to the soil line. Select plants with stiff stems that are not wilted. Avoid plants that have been left in the sleeves too long. If possible, move plants when temperatures are above 50° F. Keep plants in indirect sunlight for at least six hours per day at temperatures between 68 - 70° F. Water plants when the soil feels dry to the touch but never let them sit in water for extended time. Avoid placing plants near appliances, fireplaces or ventilating ducts. Larry A. Sagers Regional Horticulturist Utah State University Extension Service Thanksgiving Point Office

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