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Making poinsettias longer lasting

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By Bryce Roberts

Although the poinsettia Christmas tradition has roots in Mexican legend, Americans have associated poinsettias with the holiday for decades. Recently the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture joined a multi-state research project studying how to get the plant from the greenhouse to consumers in the best shape possible, with hopes that it may last awhile after buyers take it home.

In early December a greenhouse at UK’s Horticulture Research Farm in south Lexington was full of poinsettias, but they were not destined for consumers’ homes; they were part of UK Extension Horticulture Assistant Professor Rebecca Schnelle’s research.

“I’m looking at a variety of factors that might affect the plant’s durability during shipping and during the retail process,” she said. “When people buy a floral product, they expect something that looks very nice. They expect something that’s going to last a long time in their home. As a horticulture industry, we’ve not been able to provide that (with the poinsettia).”

As part of the research, Schnelle is studying plants of different sizes, maturity levels, varieties and other factors that may affect the poinsettia’s quality and longevity.

“If you look under here, you can see there is a main stem,” she said as she examined a nearby poinsettia plant. “This plant was pinched and the side branches, where the bloom forms, came out. If you look underneath (the main stem), there are actually three separate plants with individual stems.”

She said the smaller plant underneath was actually stronger than the main plant. That’s just one issue she’s seen with the plants at the greenhouse. She said the goal of the research is to simulate the same conditions poinsettias face in commercial greenhouses and during the shipping and retailing processes.

“We’re going to keep them in a retail environment that will simulate what the plants would experience in a large store such as a Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, Home Depot, etc.,” she said. “We’ll have a large area that’s lit with fluorescent lights, relatively low light, relatively cool and low humidity.”

She said the plants generally don’t appreciate those kinds of conditions, but those are often the conditions in places where consumers purchase poinsettias.

Schnelle said the poinsettia research is just in the beginning stages, but she hopes that eventually growers, retailers and consumers will benefit. She hopes the research will reveal any issues that may impact the quality of poinsettias after they leave the greenhouse. Then researchers can concentrate on how to tackle those issues so consumers can have a better quality poinsettia that lasts well beyond the holidays.

Feel free to contact me at your Spencer County Cooperative Extension Service at 477-2217 or you can email me at broberts@uky.edu.  You can visit the Spencer County Extension Services’ website at www.spencerextension.com.