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UF researchers cultivate hybrid poinsettias that thrive year-round in Florida


Hybrid poinsettias decked the halls of the Hernando County Government Center during the Christmas season of 2015, and researchers at the University of Florida say they could soon be popping up in landscapes throughout Florida.

While poinsettias, also called “Christmas flowers,” were first brought to the United States from southern Mexico by Joel Roberts Poinsett in the 1820s, they don’t necessarily grow well in North America because they aren’t cold tolerant and are susceptible to problems such as root-borne diseases. Still, there has been increasing demand for poinsettias to be included in landscaping as a year-round plant.

Researchers at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) have spent 20 years studying various poinsettia cultivars. 

“The interest in utilizing poinsettias for southeastern landscapes as shrubs, trees, and combination bedding plants has been voiced as the variety of poinsettia possibilities is expanding beyond its designated holiday,” remarks George Grant, a researcher with the National Poinsettia Trials at UF. “For the poinsettia market to thrive in an environment outside of the greenhouse or home, it will require newer, redefined cultivars and education to the consumers on how to grow them effectively.” 

What are the objectives that poinsettia breeders and researchers such as Grant must confront? “To the consumer, color is what sells. However, growers want cultivars that will sell, but also are easy to grow, produce a quality plant without a lot of chemicals and will transport well.” He adds, “it is a challenge for breeders to come up with new cultivars that satisfy all of these requirements.” 

Some of these challenges were beautifully met with the hybrid poinsettias that Hernando County showed off in its 2015 holiday display. Some of the new poinsettia cultivars on stage at the busy county government center included “Autumn Leaves 2016,” “Luv U Pink,” “Red Glitter” and “Winter Rose Early.” Grant says these cultivars, produced by poinsettia breeder Dümmen Orange [http://dummenorange.com/], are novelty poinsettias that vary in bract (flower) color and growth habit. “They do all share one characteristic,” observes Grant. “Uniqueness.” 

The plants were brought to Hernando County by master gardeners Wynn Miller and Conny Cunningham, who traveled to UF to select the innovative hybrid poinsettias and install them in the government center.

“I’m very proud of how our master gardeners have transformed the atrium at the County Government Center from a neglected space to more of a ‘theme park’ type of display, complete with seasonal color and flowers,” says Dr. William Lester, an urban & commercial horticultural agent with the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension in Hernando County. Lester and his colleagues with the Master Gardener program are working toward training volunteer gardeners on a wide array of gardening disciplines.  

According to Grant, the hybrid poinsettias don’t usually turn up in places such as the local grocer or big box stores. “Finding these types of poinsettias will require a little searching [at] local nurseries, ornamental gardens stores, or the University of Florida’s Annual Poinsettia Show [every] December, where over 150 cultivars of poinsettias are sold to support the Environmental Horticulture Club.” 

Grant adds a few tips to those who are looking to include poinsettias (hybrid or otherwise) in their landscape. “Choosing a planting location away from street lights or external light sources that come on at night is essential. This incidental light can actually delay or restrict your poinsettia from ever producing flowers.” 

He says poinsettias need full morning sun and shade during the afternoon, and they also require a planting area with good drainage. Grant tells gardeners that poinsettias don’t establish well outdoors when temperatures are less than 50 degrees. Therefore, new poinsettias are best kept indoors during the winter; they should be situated near a window that lets in full sun. “Once your poinsettia is planted, or when the spring time comes, you will notice how quickly it grows into a tree-like shrub. It is completely up to the property owner as to how tall or wide their plant will get as it is mainly controlled by pruning.”

Read more articles by Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez.

 Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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