For MU horticulturist, poinsettias are more than decor

Tuesday, December 4, 2012 | 12:07 p.m. CST; updated 5:19 p.m. CST, Tuesday, December 4, 2012
David Trinklein, associate professor of horticulture, poses while watering poinsettias at greenhouse No. 23 on East Campus Drive at MU. These poinsettias are maintained by his greenhouse management class students. "Poinsettias are named in honor of Joel Poinsett, the first U.S. minister to Mexico," Trinklein said.

COLUMBIA — David Trinklein cares for more than 400 poinsettias, but you won't find any in his home.

In MU greenhouse No. 23, the MU Extension horticulture specialist deftly prods the broad red and splotchy pink leaves of the poinsettias, examining the flowers and checking for signs of fungus gnats. 

"The poinsettia names are usually something seasonal, like Jingle Bells, White Christmas or Rudolph," he said with a smile. "OK, Rudolph isn't really a type of poinsettia. But you get the gist."

Poinsettias are one of the highest selling potted plants in the United States and Canada, bringing in about $60 million in the six-week period leading up to Christmas, according to the University of Illinois Extension.

Trinklein, along with students in his greenhouse, grows hundreds of poinsettias each fall. They receive the 2-inch poinsettia cuttings in late July and tend to the plants until the end of the semester, when the poinsettias are often used as decoration at graduations.

Despite tending to the festive holiday flowers for more than 30 years, Trinklein has no interest in using them as decoration in his home.

"Golly, I've had my fill of poinsettias by Christmas," Trinklein said. "I get to see all the poinsettias that I want in the greenhouse." 

Trinklein grew his first poinsettia in a floriculture class at Lincoln University. He has tended to thousands of the plants since.

Poinsettias are challenging to grow and make excellent teaching tools, Trinklein said. 

"If anything can happen to a plant, it usually will happen to a poinsettia," he said. "It is prone to root diseases and lots of insect pests."

While the bright flowers are a hassle to grow, they're a favorite around the holidays. Poinsettias contribute more than $250 million to the U.S. economy, according to the University of Illinois Extension.

There are more than 100 varieties of poinsettias, including pink, white, yellow, purple, salmon and multicolored.

"Poinsettias are probably the No. 1 potted plant sold at this time of year," MU greenhouse coordinator Michelle Brooks said. "They have been around for a long time. Most people can remember their grandparent's having a poinsettia around. There is some tradition there."

Poinsettias are characterized by their vividly colored leaves, known as "bracts." The real flower, known as the cyathium, is the bright yellow center. 

The work benches display a spectrum of colors: deep, vivid reds, pale pinks and patchy combinations of the two. 

"Poinsettia bract colors mutate really, really easily," Trinklein said, gesturing to a leaf: one-half a solid bubble-gum pink, the other a mottled red. 

One of Trinklein's favorites, though, is a new cultivar of poinsettia . It goes by the name "Crazy."

"It does have crazy-looking leaves and crazy-looking bract clusters," he said. "It's pretty well-named."

Trinklein said he thinks poinsettias, whatever the variety, have a sentimental effect on people around the holidays. He will continue to avoid them as decorations in his own home, though.

"The interest is somewhat nostalgic for most people," he said. "It is associated with Christmas joy or the holidays. Most people like that season."

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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