Getting back on the court after a few years off can make you wonder if you’ve still got game. When your show draws everyone’s attention, there’s a bit of pressure to make your return season your best. Toss in invitations for the glitterati of growing to come and assess your work, and even hardened veterans might worry.
Cue the inspiring comeback music. After a five-year hiatus, Colorado State University poinsettia trails are back – big, bold, and in your face with color. With 80 cultivars packing the 3,200 square-foot greenhouse, the hallmark of the holidays are wall to wall with beauty that takes your breath away.
And the time has come to rate those plants in the CSU Poinsettia Trails, Monday, December 7, when the public is invited to check out the crop and rank their favorites.
“This year, 30 percent of the varieties here have never been seen by the public,” said Dr. Steven Newman, Professor of Floriculture and Greenhouse Crops Extension Specialist for CSU. “But some of others are old, old, old. We raise them together to give growers a chance to do baseline comparisons on how the new plants perform next to the tried and true.”
A week before the public is invited to evaluate the poinsettias, growers, plant breeders, brokers, florists, and other industry members gather to assess the plants, often choosing those they’ll grow next season. “They’re looking at which poinsettias grow well here in Colorado,” Newman said, “some that do well here don’t do well elsewhere because the light quality is different or they have a lot of cloudy days.”
Poinsettias, the number one holiday plant sold in America, is a $9.2 million dollar wholesale industry in Colorado, Newman says. Local growers provide retailers with thousands of the cheerful plants from Halloween through the end of the year.
Treating plants with the same care in unbiased trials lets growers see how different varieties thrive under standard industry practices. “This isn’t a show where they’re going from booth to booth, seeing only those plants that are perfect,” he said. Growers need to know how that poinsettia will grow for them, if it’s finicky to raise, and when it will be in its prime.
Though the trial isn’t paid for by plant breeders, the big poinsettia companies, like Ecke, Dummen, or Syngenta, send two-inch rooted plant cuttings to CSU in July for entry into the trial. Planted into 6-inch pots, the cuttings are cared for by Newman, Research Associate John Ray, and Floriculture graduate students. Costs are recouped from the sale of poinsettias during the public evaluation.
As days begin shortening September 19th, the greenhouse crew covers windows at night to block out the glow of street lamps. This darkness stimulates the poinsettias to color up. The earliest plants are in full blush in five weeks; these jumpstart sales for the season. Later varieties are in full color by black Friday, the biggest single day for poinsettia sales.
In the greenhouse, bench after bench blazes with the result of months of care. “All of these colors are interesting to see, but I always like the novelties,” says Ray, who oversees the daily operation. “The brokers and growers invariably pick the standards, but the students and public love the novelties too – they go ape over them.”
In plum, buff or seashell pink, there’s a poinsettia for you. For holiday haute décor, try speckles, crinkles, or rose-like doubles; even Broncos fans are in luck, with Orange Spice. Head on out to the trials early; the plants sell out fast.
If you go:
What: Poinsettia trials at Colorado State University
When: Monday, December 7, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Free admission.
Where: W.D. Holley Plant Environmental Research Center, 630 W. Lake St., Fort Collins.