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The First Family of the 'Christmas Flower'

The First Family of the 'Christmas Flower'



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One family has long been synonymous with the Christmas flower.

The famous Ecke family poinsettia dynasty in Encinitas, Calif., is now in its third generation under the able leadership of Paul Ecke III.

I recently talked with him to learn more about these great flowers.

Ecke is justifiably proud of his family's contributions. His grandfather, Albert Ecke, started with an obscure plant that was largely a horticultural curiosity in this country and developed growing protocols, propagation stock and distribution systems that got people interested in the plants.

"My grandfather was much more the low-key creator of the Christmas flower, but my dad, Paul Ecke Sr., was the media guy. He was the one who got the poinsettias on the television and the movies. He started with them on the 'Tonight Show.' We still do the poinsettias on that show with Conan O'Brien and are now doing the 'Jay Leno Show.'

Ecke's father was, in Paul's words, always the showman. Ecke recalls how he and his sister were trained from an early age to promote poinsettias.

"When we went into a restaurant, we knew to feel the poinsettias and see if they were real. If they weren't, we said very loudly, 'Dad, these are not real!' I've trained my 8 year old to do the same thing.

"Growing up on an 800-acre ranch a mile from the beach in southern California was very much a charmed life. I started working at first for 10 cents an hour and later progressed to minimum wage. It was great to watch my father and grandfather in action."

He explains the Ecke poinsettia contribution. "Poinsettias are the most popular flowering crop in America. That is incredible since it is only sold six or maybe seven weeks out of the year," adding the future of the plant looks bright.

"We call it (the poinsettia) the living symbol of Christmas."

"We all see the 'Creeping Christmas Syndrome.' It went from December to November, and now many stores are setting up their Christmas displays in October or earlier. However, when you see the living poinsettias in the store, you know Christmas is coming. I don't think that symbol is going away.

"As a company we are looking to the future. Some 70 or 75 percent of the poinsettias in America get their start here on the Ecke ranch. As you probably know, we breed new varieties, and we patent new varieties, and we sell cuttings and also license others to propagate our varieties. We will continue to do that in the future," he said.

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Larry A. Sagers

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