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Nurseries report strong sales for iconic Christmas plant

Issue Date: December 22, 2021
By Ching Lee
Anita Duarte, right, in red apron, welcomes a tour group to Duarte Nursery in Stanislaus County late last month. The company shifts its focus to poinsettias during the holiday season
Photo/Richard Green

Nearly two years into the pandemic, Americans' lockdown-induced love affair with houseplants remains in bloom, and sales of poinsettias continue to benefit from this trend.

California nurseries that grow the holiday plant say supplies have been moving fast during the six weeks leading up to Christmas, traditionally when most poinsettias are sold.

Marc Hall, who manages sales for Sunshine Growers Nursery in Riverside County, described demand for poinsettias this year as "very strong." He noted the nursery has already sold out of the red variety, which accounts for at least 60% of the company's poinsettia production. Though its greenhouse opened Thanksgiving weekend, he said, some customers wanted the plants sooner, particularly groups that use poinsettias for fundraisers.

Nurseries typically begin poinsettia production in early summer after they receive seedlings from companies that breed the plants. Sunshine Growers sold out of its poinsettias in 2020. Hall said he thinks people needed plants for comfort during the pandemic. Interest in houseplants has not abated, he said.

"There's still a craze," Hall added.

California remains the nation's top producer of poinsettias, with sales of $29.4 million in 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Total U.S. sales reached nearly $149 million that year.

The winter-blooming plant is native to Mexico, but it was the Ecke family in Southern California that first popularized poinsettias as a Christmas plant by marketing them as such in the early 1900s. At its peak, San Diego County-based Ecke Ranch enjoyed 90% of the poinsettia market thanks to its cultivating techniques that turned the shrub into a potted plant, according to reports.

After making the decision to not grow poinsettias and open its greenhouse for tours last year, grower Anita Duarte of Duarte Nursery in Stanislaus County described business this season as "pretty much back to normal."

Even though the nursery's main business is permanent crops, the company shifts its focus to poinsettias during the holiday season, with annual production of some 70,000 of the potted plants. The nursery opened its poinsettia greenhouse on Nov. 13 and remained "busy with customers wanting to get in and get poinsettias," Duarte said.

She noted many families make it a tradition to come to the farm and buy poinsettias as they start their Christmas shopping—just as they would going to choose-and-cut Christmas tree farms. With the poinsettia nursery being closed last year, she said customers appear eager to return to the ritual.

"I hear that more and more: 'It's our tradition. We really miss you,'" Duarte said. "They're happy that we were be able to open this year."

She noted orders for poinsettias used for fundraisers have been "quite large." That may be because schools and other organizations that need to raise money were not able to do so last year, she said. Fundraising groups tend to buy more of the traditional red poinsettias, so the nursery devotes half its inventory to five or six different red varieties. It also produces 10 to 12 other colors, she said.

"We always try to bring in something new," Duarte said.

New this year is a variety called White Wonder, with bracts that are actually white; past so-called white varieties tended to be more of a cream color, she noted.

Other newer varieties such as Autumn Leaves, which sports peachy-yellow bracts, continue to trend, she said. Tapestry, with its red bracts and variegated yellow and green leaves, remains a big seller, she noted.

Not all new varieties become hits. Hall recalled a maroon poinsettia from a few years ago that never quite took off, so the nursery decided to drop it this year.

"Was that because it wasn't the Pantone color that year? I don't know why," he said, referring to the New Jersey color authority best known for predicting the "it" color for the coming year.

Pantone named two colors for 2021, one of which is a bright yellow, and Hall said he thinks "that fed into" the popularity this year of a yellow-bract poinsettia.

Another newer variety that also has done well is Winter Rose, which has compact, curly bracts that come in different colors. Hall said people get them as personal poinsettias for their desk or office, or as gifts.

"It's almost like a cupcake," he said. "That one has always stayed very strong because of its compact nature."

Headstart Nursery in Santa Clara County produces just red poinsettias in 6½-inch pots wrapped in red foil, said Melissa Wark, customer service manager for the nursery. Its core business remains in vegetable transplants, she said, but like Duarte, the nursery shifts to selling poinsettias during Christmastime. More than 90% of its poinsettia sales are to nonprofits and schools using the plants for fundraisers, Wark noted.

Because Headstart's vegetable transplant business slows down this time of year, she said the poinsettia business allows the nursery to keep employees working while helping local nonprofits.

"It's a popular item for fundraisers," she said. "Everyone's kind of looking for poinsettias this time of year, so it's perfect."

Headstart grows about 80,000 poinsettias each year, mostly in Monterey County, but due to shipping delays, it lost nearly 20,000 plants this year because the cuttings came in moldy, Wark said. The nursery typically sells out of its poinsettias and has a waiting list, which grew to more than 40 people this year, she noted. That's about 15,000 plants the nursery could have sold if it had them, she added.

Because some nurseries decided not to grow poinsettias last year, Headstart picked up new customers, Wark said. With the increased demand, she said the nursery plans to expand its production to 100,000 plants next year.

"Our owners just decided let's just go big or go home," Wark said.

(Ching Lee is an assistant editor in Ag Alert. She may be contacted at clee@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.




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