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Have you received a Poinsettia?

December 29, 2021

Poinsettia (scientific name Euphorbia pulcherima) is a plant species native to Mexico, well known for its coloured bract leaves which surround the cluster of flowers and add the ornamental value to the plant.

Most commercially grown varieties produce red bracts, although increasingly there are white and pink cultivars too. Therefore, they are primarily grown for the Christmas market worldwide. There are 4 million Poinsettia’s sold across the UK every Christmas while this year approximately 12,000 plants are locally produced in Northern Ireland.

Poinsettias have been traditionally grown in the Horticulture Centre within the Greenmount Campus, Antrim for about two decades. Poinsettias grown at Greenmount contribute in meeting the College’s objectives on both, student hands-on experience in various education programmes and the provision of technical support to the local agri-food industry. This year 2,500 Poinsettia plants have been grown from two types of varieties (standard and dwarf) and from seven varieties bearing different bract leaf colours and shapes. Growing Poinsettias can be a challenge as they require warm temperatures and are susceptible to some plant pathogens or pests. Our Integrated Pest Management approach uses cultural controls, fans and roof vents for circulation, as well as predators for pests and a fungicide program assist to keep these plants healthy and free of pests and disease.

The standard Poinsettia varieties grown in the Horticulture Centre in Greenmount provide a good example of the College’s businesses. For decades peat has been the most common substrate used for pot plant production. However, due to regulations on environmental sustainability the production of plants shifts to peat alternatives. CAFRE and its Knowledge Advisory Service actively supports the development and transfer of knowledge in the field of peat alternatives. The Horticulture Technology Team in CAFRE is currently undertaking an investigative project for a key industry stakeholder in the field of substrate development for soil-less plant production. A number of standard, red-leafed Poinsettia varieties are grown in a range of peat-free substrates which are being assessed by means of plant performance.

The Horticulture Technology Team have collaborated with Horticulture students studying on the Honours Degree programme to undertake plant performance assessments. This helps them gain necessary experience needed to prepare and later complete their dissertations. In addition, technical horticulture staff interpret and summarise the data collected by the students and report back to the stakeholder so that informed decisions about their substrate products can be made. 

Foundation Degree student, Ben Sayers carries out a quality check on the Poinsettia crop growing in the glasshouses within the Horticulture Centre at Greenmount Campus.

Another team of Horticulture students studying at Foundation Degree level help greatly with the growing and marketing the main Poinsettia crop in December. Students take a portion of the plants and sell them to staff, students and departmental staff. Students are tasked with planning – booking orders, preparing plants for sale and organising deliveries. Funds raised from this project enable the students to partake in a study tour in their second year of study.

The plants have become somewhat of a tradition at CAFRE – staff, students and visitors return year on year to buy a plant from the Horticulture Centre, and are always delighted with the quality. CAFRE is Northern Ireland’s only agri-food and land based college. If you are interested in finding out more about studying at CAFRE and where it could lead you, please visit our course pages.