Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are subtropical plants that originated in Mexico and Guatemala. In their native climate, poinsettias are small woody shrubs that may reach a height of more than 10 feet. In the U.S., poinsettias are grown as indoor potted plants popular at Christmas time. While the showy bracts are suggestive of flower petals, they are really modified leaves. The actual poinsettia flowers are less conspicuous by comparison, forming a yellow to red cluster in the center of the bracts.
This traditional Christmas plant is the best selling potted flowering plant in the U.S. Poinsettias are sold over a 6-week period beginning in early November. Greenhouse operators have become quite efficient in growing poinsettias, so while the market is relatively large, profits remain small due to over-production. Red-colored poinsettia cultivars remain the most popular, with novelty cultivars gaining some popularity in recent years. Producers should always identify market opportunities before producing novelty cultivars.
Cultivar selection is a critical decision for commercial poinsettia growers, but as breeders continue to release new and exciting varieties each year it can seem an overwhelming task. In addition to the classic red and white, bracts may come in various novelty colors such as pink, peach, orange, and lilac. Bract colors may also be solid, variegated, marbled, or flecked. Other horticultural variations include leaf color (light to dark green colors; solid or variegated), leaf and bract shape, and growth habit. Knowing your customer preferences and the market demand will be critical in selecting cultivars with the desirable traits. Additionally, growers will need to consider other characteristics from a production standpoint: adaptability to local greenhouse conditions, ease of branching, light requirements, cold tolerance, disease and pest resistance, and plant vigor.