For nearly 200 years, Americans have embraced poinsettias as a popular holiday tradition, providing a splash of color – not always red – in homes and offices. In North Carolina, they are also big business: Growers here produce some 4.3 million poinsettia plants sold throughout the Eastern United States and beyond.
With long-running research and extension efforts aimed at making poinsettias last longer and finding easier ways to produce them, NC State University has played an important role in helping the industry prosper.
Dr. John Dole, who now serves as an associate dean in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is a leading national poinsettia expert, having studied the plant for 34 years.
Each year, the NC State poinsettia program evaluates new cultivars for the North American Poinsettia Trials. The trials help poinsettia growers and others in the floriculture industry see which ones work best for them and for consumers.
“This year, we have 131 cultivars of poinsettias that we are evaluating. We get them from all around the world,” Dole said. “We bring the North Carolina growers in, and they look at the new cultivars to figure out which ones to grow.”
Among the growers who’ve benefited from NC State is Kevin Gray. On an old tobacco field at his Greensboro farm, Gray started growing poinsettias two years ago. He’d won a grant to construct a greenhouse for the operation. The NC AgVentures grant, administered by NC State Extension, is funded by the North Carolina Tobacco Trust Fund Commission.
Gray thought poinsettia production would work well on his farm, where he also sells and grows Christmas trees. “I’m trying to create the entire Christmas experience on the farm,” he said, “and make it a one-stop-shop for everything Christmas.”