Johnny Morgan | 1/4/2011 1:11:31 AM
Each year poinsettia lovers make their way to the LSU AgCenter’s Burden Research Center to get their supply of the official Christmas flower.
The LSU AgCenter sponsors the annual poinsettia open house to allow consumers to buy plants and give feedback that is helpful to growers.
“This annual event allows us to not only sell plants, but we also conduct a consumer survey to determine which varieties the consumers like best,” said Jeff Kuehny, LSU AgCenter horticulturist. “This provides information that we can give to growers to help them determine which varieties are preferred.”
Consumers say Christmas just doesn’t feel like Christmas without poinsettias.
“They are just a traditional Christmas flower, and I love to have them in the house at Christmas,” Nancy Crawford said, while browsing the plants on display. “They are really hard to grow, but I just try to keep them watered every day to keep them moist in the house.”
During the open house, Katie Guitreau, a junior horticulture major at LSU, kept busy handing out and collecting surveys and helping customers with their plants.
“We actually have a bunch of our show plants, which are very unique plants that a lot of stores don’t have, so we ask the customers to complete the survey to tell us what they think about them,” Guitreau said. “It helps us determine what to buy next year, and it also helps out the three companies represented here when we send them the results.”
Trials like the ones at the Burden Center are conducted across the country because of different growing conditions.
Old and new varieties of poinsettias are planted at the research center in June and nursed through the hot summer months with different experiments to evaluate production practices.
“We want to know if there’s a difference in the fertilizer needs and growth retardant needs of the various varieties to have this information to provide to the growers for next season,” Kuehny said.
“Some poinsettias grow better in cooler weather up north, while others do much better in our climate,” Kuehny said. “The Prestige Red is by far the most popular variety grown here.”
In Louisiana, more than 200 growers raise poinsettias, which are the No. 1 flowering potted plant in the country with over 100 varieties.
The plant’s history in this country goes back to the early 1800s when they were introduced to California by Joel Poinsett, the ambassador to Mexico at the time.
From those early varieties, the Ecke family of California realized that this plant that grew wild in the countryside and bloomed near the holidays had the potential to become a popular holiday flower.
“In the early days, poinsettias were mainly grown for the cut flower industry,” Kuehny said. “But as time passed, growers moved more toward potted plant production.”
Poinsettias are considered a short-day plant, which means they require short days in order to initiate a flower.
Near the end of September, when the day length becomes less than 12 hours, the plants begin to flower.
“What actually happens is the modified leaves of the plant stop producing chlorophyll, and more of the pigment is visible,” Kuehny said.
Poinsettias don’t actually have flower petals, they have “bracts” Kuehny explained.
For more information on poinsettias visit the LSU AgCenter website at lsuagcenter.com.