Those bright crimson blooms that grace the steps, porches, landscapes and interiors of so many homes this time of year actually have their own day. December 12th is Poinsettia Day.
The date marks the death of Joel Roberts Poinsett, an American botanist, physician and Minister to Mexico who discovered the plant in Southern Mexico. In 1828, he sent cuttings of the plant, which is botanically known as Euphorbia Pulcherrima, to his home in Charleston, South Carolina.
The Ecke family of Southern California is largely responsible for the success of the Poinsettia industry and the popularity of the plant today. In 1900, a German Immigrant named Albert Ecke, who was fascinated with the brilliantly colored plants, began growing them on his farmland and selling them from street stands. His son, Paul Ecke Sr., developed a secret breeding technique that transformed what had been a tall, delicate “weed” into a full and sturdy potted plant.
In the 1960s, Paul Ecke Jr. started growing Poinsettias in greenhouses, shipping cuttings by air rather than mature plants by rail, and promoting the plants by showering television networks with free poinsettias from Thanksgiving to Christmas.
The Ecke family had a virtual monopoly on the Poinsettia market because of the family’s secret technique for growing plants with multiple branches coming from a single stem. In 1991, a university graduate student published an article that described a method for causing Poinsettias to branch this way. Once the technique became widely known, competition flourished, especially from Europe, resulting in a decrease of Ecke family’s hold on the market. In August 2012, the Ecke Ranch announced that it had been acquired by the Dutch-based Agribio Group.
In July of 2002, the House of Representatives created Poinsettia Day, passing a Resolution to honor Paul Ecke Jr. who is considered the father of the Poinsettia industry.
Interesting Fact: According to the University of Illinois Extension, the showy colored parts of Poinsettias that most people think of as the flowers are actually colored bracts (modified leaves). The yellow flowers, or cyathia, are in the center of the colorful bracts. The plant drops its bracts and leaves soon after those flowers shed their pollen. For the longest-lasting Poinsettias, choose plants with little or no yellow pollen showing.