For four months, students in Colorado State University’s fall floriculture practicum have nursed hundreds of poinsettias from tiny rooted cuttings into vivid holiday plants.
And after a semester of watchful greenhouse gardening, the horticulture students see their poinsettias as more than simple potted plants. The students view their poinsettias as the living embodiment of seasonal celebration.
“It’s really rewarding to know that people will be happy with something we grew from plant material, soil, water, and our work,” said Matthew Curran, a junior majoring in horticulture.
“It’s fun to give people happiness,” agreed Royce Lahman, a senior in horticulture.
The students will share the results of their work during Colorado State University’s 18th annual poinsettia sale beginning Monday, Dec. 5 at the W.D. Holley Plant Environmental Research Center greenhouse on campus. The sale is open to the public (details below).
The poinsettia crop, raised by eight students in this semester’s floriculture practicum, encompasses nearly 2,000 individual plants representing more than 50 poinsettia varieties. The plants, with their color-saturated bracts, come in scarlet, pink and cream; some novelty varieties boast bracts that are speckled, variegated and marbled.
The students who nurtured the enticing display admit they’re devoted to the plants.
“This has been one of my favorite classes at CSU. I mean, look at this room. It’s beautiful,” said Robin Davenport, a junior in horticulture, as she and her classmates met in the greenhouse last week. “It’s been awesome to have a class that’s so hands-on.”
For years, the CSU Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture has used its fall floriculture practicum to give students hands-on growing and horticulture skills in the greenhouse, said Steve Newman, floriculture professor and greenhouse crops Extension specialist. The class traditionally has focused on poinsettias and has culminated in a public plant sale.
Simultaneously, the practicum has helped run a poinsettia trial, which grows and evaluates poinsettia varieties starting with 2-inch cuttings submitted by national and global plant companies.
During the semester, practicum students monitor the poinsettias for pests and disease. They fertilize, water, maintain the greenhouse – and, crucially, meet the need for complete darkness at night.
Poinsettias, as short-day plants, must have a full 12 hours of darkness as they mature in order to gain their characteristic saturated colors. That’s a big challenge in a greenhouse surrounded by street, residential and security lights. So every evening, horticulture students draw curtains of black plastic over greenhouse panels to protect their poinsettias from light pollution.
“It’s kind of stressful,” admitted Heather Hammack, a senior who has worked since last summer as student coordinator of the CSU poinsettia trial.
Judging by the greenhouse display, the students were successful in their light-blocking efforts.
“It’s really cool that we’ve been part of this whole process,” said Kelly Scholl, a junior majoring in horticulture. “It’s cool to watch these plants transform. This class has made me love my major even more.”
• Colorado State University’s 18th annual poinsettia sale is open to the public and runs Dec. 5-9 and Dec. 12-16, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily.
• Location: W. D. Holley Plant Environmental Research Center greenhouse, 630 W. Lake St., Fort Collins.
• Plants come in 6-inch pots and cost $8 each.
• For care and handling information, refer to a CSU Extension fact sheet about poinsettias. It’s available online at www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/garden/07412.html.
• The poinsettia is the most popular holiday plant sold in America; the plant is the focus of a $9-million wholesale industry in Colorado.
• Poinsettias are native to Mexico and Central America.
• The plants were part of Aztec rituals and, after the arrival of Franciscan missionaries, were incorporated into Christian traditions.
• In 1825, Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first U.S. minister to Mexico, introduced the plant to the United States and gave Euphorbia pulcherrima its common name.