Back momentarily from my brief blogging break, I'm here to share with you Southern California's paradise for poinsettias, Paul Ecke Ranch in Encinitas. . .
Known as "The Poinsettia Capitol of the World", Paul Ecke Ranch has been in operation for over 80 years. Run in succession by three generations of the Ecke family, the ranch provides 75% of poinsettias sold in the US and 50% worldwide. The coastal location and mild year-round temperatures in this area of my state provide the perfect growing environment for this exotic flower from Mexico.
In the early years, the business focused on field-grown poinsettia plants, but for more than 40 years now, the 25-acre ranch consists largely of greenhouses used for growing poinsettia cultivars and developing new varieties. Most recently, the ranch has been concentrating even more on scientific research and development.
Ecke poinsettias of all colors and shapes, get their start at the ranch after which cuttings are shipped to growers throughout the world. Poinsettia plants can then be grown to maturity in greenhouse environments and sold locally to retailers. In this way, the poinsettias arrive on store shelves and eventually to people's homes as fresh as possible and with a minimal amount of damage in transport.
Poinsettias were first discovered growing wild in Mexico and Central America and are named after Dr. Joel R. Poinsett, a US ambassador to Mexico who introduced the plant to the United States. The bright petals of poinsettias are actually leaves or bracts, and the flowers themselves are very small and yellow. The Mexican poinsettia is bright red, but poinsettias have been bred and cultivated to include many other colors and with bracts in a surprising variety of shapes and formations—as you see here in the photos from Ecke Ranch.
If you were born in December, the poinsettia is your birth flower. Also known as the Christmas flower, legend has it that poinsettias began as a humble weed. When a little girl—with no means for a grander gift—placed weeds on a church alter, they turned into brilliant red blooms. Symbolizing good cheer and merriment, this December birth flower is a fitting tribute to this month's joyful celebrations. The ancient Aztecs considered the poinsettia to be a symbol of purity. Other names for the poinsettia include Noche Buena, the Winter Rose, the Christmas Star, the Flame Leaf and the Stelle di Natalle. Recent research has shown that poinsettias are not poisonous, as they were long believed to be.
Better Homes & Gardens, in the December issue and on their website, would like us to "think outside the pot" when using poinsettias to decorate our homes for the holidays. Their ideas take the typical plant in a pot plopped onto the center of your table or lined up on your porch and elevate it to something much more.
Clipping individual stems from the plants and placing them one or two at a time in water-filled vases is perhaps the most simple idea. You might then group the vases together, on tiered pedestals as seen above, or spread them out along your mantel, below.
Slip a few of the stems into a collection of whiteware pitchers and vases. This idea would be pretty in your kitchen if you collect and display white china. Here's an important tip: when you cut a stem from a poinsettia plant, its milky sap will leak out. To stop it, seal the cut surface by quickly dipping the end into simmering water. You can also sear the cut end with the flame of a candle.
Turn a poinsettia plant into a topiary! From your original potted plant, cut away all but two or three of the tallest stems in the center. Set the plant into an attractive pot that matches your decor and top the soil surface with moss. Then gently gather the plants stems together, use a twist tie to secure them, and cover the tie with a pretty ribbon.
If you're feeling more ambitious, create your own poinsettia tree. Using branches from your yard, form a "tree" in the container of your choice—you may need to use floral foam or balled chicken wire to keep them in place. Glass ornaments become hanging "vases" for individual poinsettia flowers, the stems of which have been cut short to fit. It's a little tricky, but creates a beautiful effect and you can go here to get helpful instructions.
Have fun with your poinsettias! Now, I'm off again to shop and decorate and ready my house for our holiday party. . . Merry Christmas!
First six photos taken at Paul Ecke Ranch by Lisa Hallett Taylor for About.com. Read her article and see more photos here. Top to bottom, the poinsettia varieties pictured are Ice Punch, Winter Rose, Orangies, Dulce Rosa, traditional poinsettias in a range of colors, and Strawberries N'Cream. Last five photos of poinsettia arrangements from BH&G magazine and website.