Pas­sion for poin­set­tias:

The story be­hind these gor­geous win­ter blooms

EDP Norfolk - - INSIDE - WORDS AND PHO­TOS: An­nie Green-Army­tage

We meet a man with a mis­sion

My mother-in-law loves a good poin­set­tia. Christ­mas trees she can take or leave, but the warm­ing glow of those crim­son flow­ers makes her hol­i­day sea­son. Be­fore the botan­i­cally knowl­edge­able among you protest, yes, they’re not ac­tu­ally flow­ers, they’re bracts.

The poin­set­tia be­longs to the eu­phor­bia fam­ily - its botan­i­cal name is Eu­phor­bia pul­cher­rima – and this genus gen­er­ally has this ar­range­ment of bracts with tiny in­signif­i­cant yel­low false flow­ers in the cen­tre, known as cy­athia. The bracts of the well-known gar­den va­ri­eties (think stately Eu­phor­bia chara­cias subsp.

wulfenii, E. cy­paris­sias, or ca­per spurge E. lath­yris) are usu­ally a shade of green or limy yel­low rather than red.

The poin­set­tia is na­tive to Mex­ico and there is ev­i­dence that it has been around for at least a mil­len­nium, used by the Aztecs both as a dye and as a feverre­duc­ing medicine. It was known then as cuit­lax­o­chitl, mean­ing ‘flower that grows in residues or soil’; the name poin­set­tia came into be­ing in 1828 when the Amer­i­can am­bas­sador to Mex­ico, Joel Roberts Poin­sett, an am­a­teur botanist, shipped back cut­tings to his home in South Carolina. Fast for­ward a cen­tury or so, and a Ger­man im­mi­grant, Al­bert Ecke, started grow­ing and sell­ing the plants com­mer­cially on street stalls. Three gen­er­a­tions of Eckes later, the poin­set­tia made its ap­pear­ance on Amer­i­can TV Christ­mas spe­cials and its English-speak­ing Christ­mas tra­di­tion was born.

To­day, one of the UK nurs­eries lead­ing the way in poin­set­tia pro­duc­tion is Neame Lea, in our neigh­bour­ing county of Lin­colnshire. Last year they sup­plied su­per­mar­kets and gar­den cen­tres across the coun­try with around 140,000 plants and are hop­ing to in­crease pro­duc­tion by more than dou­ble in fu­ture years. Vasile Agache is Neame Lea’s Ro­ma­nian-born pro­duc­tion man­ager, ex­u­ber­ant and en­thu­si­as­tic, and clearly a man

on a mis­sion. He has been tasked with im­prov­ing pro­duc­tion, and in par­tic­u­lar, elim­i­nat­ing the use of growth-reg­u­lat­ing hor­mone which has tra­di­tion­ally been em­ployed by grow­ers to keep the plant short and bushy. “A poin­set­tia in the wild is a tall shrub,” he ex­plains. “We wanted to pro­duce good, com­pact plants with­out the chem­i­cals.”

In one of the im­mac­u­lately clean, highly-au­to­mated glasshouses, Vasile de­scribes how he has been in­ves­ti­gat­ing al­ter­na­tive ways of con­trol­ling growth: “This year we had a re­search trial on wa­ter deficit with Lin­coln Univer­sity,” he says. “We mon­i­tored the mois­ture con­tent of a pot, and we found that ac­tu­ally, when I was think­ing it was bone dry, in re­al­ity it wasn’t dry enough. So now we can save on wa­ter too.” He has also been ex­per­i­ment­ing with dif­fer­ent pinch­ing-out regimes, leav­ing six leaves rather than the cus­tom­ary four-five, as well as more strictly reg­u­lated tem­per­a­tures, us­ing dif­fer­ent

‘In my opin­ion ‘J’Adore Pink’, is a stun­ning plant, but I am told, ‘yes, it is beau­ti­ful but it’s not a Christ­mas colour’

cul­ti­vars, and tri­alling dif­fer­ent mixes of com­post. He has found the tri­als both fas­ci­nat­ing and chal­leng­ing.

“It was quite stress­ful be­cause there is no room for mis­takes. We have here 140,000 plants and if we got it wrong, I would have been in trou­ble!” Judg­ing by the ocean of com­pact, bushy plants in the glass house, he has noth­ing to worry about; these were all pro­duced with­out the hor­mone.

In com­mon with other grow­ers, Vasile is keen to cham­pion the range of other colours that are now avail­able, in­clud­ing white, peach and pink. “In my opin­ion ‘J’Adore Pink’, is a stun­ning plant,” he says. “But I am told, ‘Yes, it is beau­ti­ful but it’s not a Christ­mas colour.’ We have about 40-50 va­ri­eties here but most are dif­fer­ent kinds of reds.” His favourite red is ‘Prima Red’, pri­mar­ily for its nat­u­ral dome shape, which means there is less stem and more bract on show. “For me that’s the per­fect plant,”he says. “I would buy it!” I think my mother-in-law would agree.

ABOVE:Vasile Agache, pro­duc­tion man­ager at Neame Lea Nurs­ery, in front of thou­sands of poin­set­tias which the nurs­ery grow for su­per­mar­kets and other re­tail out­lets

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.