If you are familiar with the terms- trial and voting when it comes to the seasonal poinsettias, then you are ahead of most. Each year Mitchell’s Nursery in King, NC participates in the National Poinsettia Trials. These trials introduce new varieties of poinsettias and improvements to the tried and true varieties. Here at Mitchell’s, there are several breeders recognized within the greenhouse -such as Syngenta, Lazzeri, Dummen Orange, Selecta, Suntory, Rinehart, and Beekenkamp.
Each year breeders will send out cuttings from their newest varieties and from their most popular varieties from the season before. Growers, such as Mitchell’s Nursery, participate in the trials, then grow the cuttings in pots and use specialized soils, fertilizers, and watering schedules to optimize the growth of each plant. Gowers will take notes on the growth rates, vigor, and strength of the bracts of each variety. As the poinsettias grow into their new spaces, supports may be added to the pots to help the plants grow upright and keep them from breaking.
As the days become shorter and each plant is exposed to longer nights, the color begins to emerge on the foliage of the plant. However, this newly found color is mistaken as the poinsettia flower. Actually, the brightly colored leaves are exactly that, just leaves. The actual flower or bloom of the plant is the tiny yellow bulbous appendages that protrude from the center of the plant, kind of anti-climactic if you ask me.
As the season goes on and the poinsettias get into full holiday regalia, the growers are watching carefully for signs of pests, weakness, or disease. Sometimes a certain variety that was supposed to get large will for some reason not reach its full potential. Notes are made on this observation and taken into consideration for planning the next crop.
Consumers are asked to cast their votes on their favorites via displays that are set up prior to the start of voting. After all the voting is complete, each ballot is taken into consideration and the votes for each variety are calculated. This helps the breeders to know what visual attributes are most likely to be valued by the average consumer.
So, between the grower notes and consumer votes, breeders will then decide which ones need some improvement and which ones just need to go to file 13. It becomes a race of survival of the fittest. If you have ever participated in a poinsettia voting event, don’t think that those votes are just for fun or are tossed after the season. Those numbers are important to the breeders for future seasons and tough decisions about what stays and what goes.
Poinsettias have come a long way from those of years ago as they once were very fragile and temperamental. That has improved because of these poinsettia trials and breeding. Nowadays you can take care of poinsettias for many many years if you know how to care for them during their cycle of dormancy. It’s truly all about timing.