Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

December 6, 2013

Nursery brings abundance of holiday plant to local area

Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress

Troup — Standing in the midst of a poinsettia-filled greenhouse at Color Spot Nurseries, two men work in tandem, carefully spraying adhesive on the plants' leaves that will hold fast an iridescent glitter being shaken upon them.

It's just a way to add another layer of beauty to a plant that has long been a holiday favorite in this country.

“That red and green combination is like a natural draw to our human eye, because the colors complement each other so well,” said Kim Benton, the Cherokee County Extension Service horticulturist. “The poinsettia does that so beautifully.”

As popular as the plants are today, it wasn't until the 1920s that the poinsettia – native to Mexico and Central America – was unknown in the United States.

According to Dr. Leonard Perry, an extension professor at the University of Vermont, the plant – known to Aztecs as “cuetlaxochiti” and used for decoration and practical purposes – was “discovered” by Joel Roberts Poinsett, who was the ambassador to Mexico from 1825-1829.

A “keen botanist,” Poinsett (who later founded the museum that became Smithsonian Institute) “sent some of these plants in 1828 to his own greenhouses on his Greenville, South Carolina, plantation, (propagating and) sending them to friends and relatives,” Perry wrote in an article posted on the www.uvm.edu website.

One recipient, Col. Robert Carr, who owned Bartram Nursery of Philadelphia, introduced the plant – named for Poinsett – into cultivation and trade in 1829 at an exhibition of the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society; another well-known nurseryman, Robert Buist, introduced the plant in Europe in 19834, the website states.

In the 1920s, California horticulturist Paul Ecke discovered the shrub growing wild along the roadside in the southern part of the state; “he felt (it) would make a perfect Christmas flower, so set about producing these in fields in what is now Hollywood. A few years later, due to development, he was forced to move south to Encinitas where the Paul Ecke Ranch continues to produce poinsettias today,” Perry wrote.

Color Spot Nurseries, founded more than 30 years ago by Michael Vukelich and Jerry Halamuda, has seven growing centers in Texas, including in Troup, which is comprised of five facilities located around the 1037 FM 2750 East main office, just north of New Summerfield on State Hwy. 110.

The local nursery supplies a variety of plants to stores like Lowe's and Home Depot, as well as smaller businesses, and while the poinsettia is “not a high-margin profit kind of crop, it's a market we can (saturate),” said Tom Giddens, the Troup nursery's technical service lead.

This year, the nursery green 930,000 poinsettias for shipping within a 200-mile radius during a six-week period that began Nov. 6.

The biggest orders were for home improvement store chains marketing them for Black Friday.

Driving tour guests into a greenhouse, Giddens points to the back wall of the vast interior.

“This was full of poinsettias last Tuesday,” he said, adding that another employee “was wanting us out of here so she could get her plugs (for her spring plants) in.”

It takes a short while to get a routine going, but once it does, filling orders goes quickly, he said, pointing inside another greenhouse at the Texas 110 location.

“This had 25,000 poinsettias inside and it took me a day to load all this – the first day is always just a (bit rough), but once we get a routine started” work goes quickly, he said.

During the early part of this year's poinsettia season, 250 workers processed orders that averaged between 80,000 to 90,000 plants per week; orders for Black Friday grew exponentially.

The recent 320,000-unit order for Home Depot was “like 18 truckloads a day for five days, it takes us that long to get it into the door,” he explained. “After  Thanksgiving, it's down to 40 to 60 thousand each for stores.”

Though not a similar climate to the areas where they natively grow, East Texas has been a favorable spot for the nursery to grow the poinsettias.

Plants are propagated from cuttings taken from stock plants that were planted last February, and then “we take cuttings in July and August, then we transplant them in late August … it's all grown from cuttings, not from seed,” Giddens said.

The most popular color grown is red – about 90 percent of the stock is red, “but we have every color you can imagine – orange, pint, yellow, white and marbled pink and white,” he added.

Though some may consider them merely a Christmas plant, poinsettias can be grown long after the holiday season ends, with a small amount of effort.

“Just fertilize and water,” Giddens said, “you can grow a poinsettia forever.”

Added Benton, “you can plant them in March, as soon as the last freeze is past: Just cut them down to about 4 to 6 inches tall and plant them outside and re-pot them in some soil or plant them in your flowerbed and they'll grow up until winter.”