Euphorbia pulcherrima has come a long way since Joel R. Poinsett brought some home to his plantation in South Carolina from Taxco, in Mexico, 160 years ago. But the global acceptance of poinsettias as a symbol of Christmas owes more to a family-run horticultural ranch in Encinitas than to Poinsett, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, who made the introductions.
The Paul Ecke Poinsettia Ranch claims without challenge to be the starting point for about 90% of the flowering poinsettias of the world, producing each Christmas a half-million flowering plants for the California and Arizona florist trade and shipping millions of cuttings around the world to provide the basic stock of national and international production. Despite the short sales season, largely limited to the six weeks before Christmas, poinsettias now rank No. 1 nationally in the dollar value of potted flowering plants--ahead of chrysanthemums and geraniums. That popularity has not developed spontaneously. The Ecke ranch in recent years has done its darndest to promote the extraordinary plants, shipping some of them free at first to film and television studios to encourage their display as background to game shows, newscasts and soap operas.
Temperature and day length determine when the poinsettia plants bloom, and at the Ecke ranch the favored plants are those that emerge from the 35 acres of plastic-covered greenhouses in prime condition for the California market. But growers can adapt temperature and light according to location. Ecke uses artificial temperature and light controls to maintain at least some in flower year round. Which is just as well. "We are forever receiving calls in the summertime from magazines and agencies preparing Christmas materials," Carolyn Mack reported. "They want fresh flowers, and we certainly don't want to see them use plastic or silk. And last July we had a special order for the filming of 'The Steel Magnolias' in Baton Rouge. They just couldn't seem to get enough."