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Red Still No. 1, but Other Poinsettias Catching On
The bright red and green of poinsettias fit them perfectly into holiday decorating. But today, consumers have many more color choices to choose from, thanks to the efforts of poinsettia breeders. 

"Poinsettias can now be found in strong white, creamy white, light pink, solid pink, bright orange-red, deep purple-red and traditional red," said Paul Thomas, an extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "There are also speckled and marbled varieties." 

Thomas said the increase in poinsettia color choices are a result of breeders trying to meet consumer demands. "We find more and more people buying poinsettias for decorating," he said. "If you are going to use poinsettias for decorating, it's important to buy a color that matches your home color scheme." 

Of the white varieties, Gutbier V-17 Angelika White is a popular variety because it has large bracts and is a big, vigorous plant, Thomas said. 
 

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GETTING READY FOR THE HOLIDAYS Christy Markham, in photo, prepares pink poinsettias for the holiday season. Though plant breeders have produced white, pink, orange-red, near-purple and even yellow poinsettias, Paul Thomas, a UGA horticulturist with the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, said  the No. 1 selling color is still red. "You can find poinsettias to match your home decor, but they may be more difficult to find," Thomas said. (Photo courtesy the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.) 
 "The pink varieties seem to be a toss-up to consumers," he said. "People either love them or they hate them." He recommends "Pelfi Flirt" to people who fancy pink.

"Jingle Bells, the speckled poinsettias, come from two different cell types which create natural
variegations," Thomas said. "It's just like a speckled puppy dog."

The newest colors in the poinsettia family are the marbled varieties. "Instead of the sharp blotches found on the speckled poinsettias, the marbled varieties are more smoothly blended and look as if an artist painted the bracts," Thomas said. "It's really a unique color you have to see to believe and appreciate."

Poinsettias' beautiful "flowers" aren't actually flowers at all. The plant's true flower is the small, yellow flower in the center of the bracts, or groups of leaves. The bracts provide the plants' spectacular color.

Thomas said marbled poinsettias earn very high visual ratings from consumers. "They aren't grown in large numbers because they are so new," he said.

Poinsettia breeders have learned from experience to breed what consumers will buy rather than experiment with too many new and different colors.

"About four years ago, a yellow variety called Lemon Drop was released," said Thomas. "Consumers said, 'Sorry, that's not a Christmas color and we don't want it.' Breeders assumed that the public would like it just because it was a new color."

Despite the release of these new colors, traditional red poinsettias still rank highest in sales.

"A typical greenhouse propagates hundreds of reds and only dozens of the other varieties,"
Thomas said. "The marketing surveys show that people still prefer red, and 90 percent of poinsettias sold are red varieties."

Thomas said the new variegated and marbled varieties may be hard to find, but not impossible.

"You can call your local greenhouse or florist to search for a new variety such as the marbled poinsettias," he said. "There are about 800 greenhouses and 500 florists in the state. So you're probably only a few miles from one right now. If they don't have what you're looking for, chances are they can order it."

Quality is another reason to shop for poinsettias at florists and greenhouses, Thomas said, rather than department stores.

"At the chain stores," he said, "the plants may cost less. But the plant will be a lower-quality plant. And chances are you'll only find the solid red or solid white varieties."

(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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