Poinsettia plants can be vulnerable during transportation so a group of breeders is looking at ways to improve their durability by testing the plants in simulated transport conditions, such as reducing light levels and creating fluctuations of temperature. Plants are boxed in darkness for several days, and kept at lower temperatures. The packaging is then removed and the plant is placed on a shelf in a standard light level. The performance of the plants is rated according to their leaf-yellowing and the best plants are then shortlisted. The growers then meet in January to review results and the strongest performing new varieties are selected for the coming season.
Guido von Tubeuf, Poinsettia breeder at Selecta One in Stuttgart, Germany: "Our Poinsettia varieties, particularly those of the ‘Christmas Feelings‘ family (pictured) are repeatedly awarded for excellent quality and shelf life with the LTO Quality Award in the Netherlands. We also undertake regular in-house durability and stress tests under transport situations. Sustainable production alongside good shelf-life will lead to satisfied producers and customers."
In order to lengthen shelf-life, breeders have produced many thousands of hybrid seedlings, bred to withstand the temperature fluctuations that poinsettias are subjected to once they are brought into the home, ensuring that the plant remains attractive and healthy through to the end of the Christmas holidays.
Colin Edwards, Managing Director of Woodlark Nurseries, Surrey; "The modern varieties that are bred in Northern European countries today are excellent and really do give the consumer a fantastic festive plant for the Christmas holidays. This ongoing breeding programme ensures the continuing strength of this beautiful plant."
- The Poinsettia plant flowers naturally in the short days of autumn. They are grown in stable temperatures of around 20˚C prior to sale and prepared for sale by conditioning over a number of weeks in lower temperatures down to 15-16C, then they are moved through fluctuating temperatures and back to a house at 18-22˚C. Breeders have produced many thousands of seedlings from crosses (hybridisation) between varieties selected for their quality to see what looks good and what type of plant will be able to withstand this treatment. In several European countries, the trials of varieties are conducted at this time each year to see what type of a plant can be grown and after that what is the ‘shelf life’ likely to be. Ideally this should allow the consumer to purchase their plant in December and see it flowering happily throughout the Christmas season and into the New Year. Every year gardeners have discussions about how long they can keep their plant, but for most it needs to have a good life during those 6-8 weeks and still look attractive and healthy at the end of the Christmas holidays.
- 100 million poinsettia plants are produced in Europe each year (4 million are grown in the UK) in order to fulfil Christmas demand.
- There are some 150 varieties currently available, and this number increases each year.