Poinsettias Are More Than
A Pretty Plant
UNH Professor Leads Class, Nation’s
Growers in Poinsettia Growing Trends
Contact: Beth Potier
UNH Media Relations
Dec. 8, 2005
Note to editors: Link to photos at bottom of release.
DURHAM, N.H. -- For visitors to the University of New Hampshire’s
Whittemore Center this month, the 12-foot-tall tree of poinsettias
in the lobby brings holiday cheer to winter’s drear.
To the students of Plant Biology 547: Environmental Horticulture,
those Kris Krinkle, Cortez Burgundy and Monet Twilight poinsettias
they grew for the tree—as exotic and varied as their names—are
a sort of living final exam.
And for their teacher, associate professor of plant biology Paul
Fisher, they represent an opportunity to bring his teaching and
research to the industry of growing the most popular potted flowering
plant in the nation. Poinsettias represent more than $250 million
in annual sales.
“It’s a very good model crop from the point of view
of teaching,” says Fisher, noting that poinsettias grow in
about a semester and are fairly difficult to grow, making for an
ideal curriculum. “And it’s a good plant for learning
about greenhouse management. What we do here becomes a model for
other places around the country -- UNH develops poinsettia training
and software products that are used in more than 20 other universities.”
The poinsettias in this winter’s display were grown as close
as possible to organic standards. While poinsettias are unlikely
to turn up in salad anytime soon (although their supposed toxicity
to people and pets has been disproved), Fisher says that his students’
triumph in growing poinsettias without synthetic growing media,
fertilizer, or pesticides means that the same greenhouse methods
could be used with easier-to-grow food plants.
“I’m using the poinsettia crop as a proof of concept
that you can actually grow a long-term greenhouse crop organically,”
he says, adding, “No one’s been crazy enough to produce
organic poinsettias before.” Fisher also notes that most greenhouse
growers in New Hampshire are interested in taking selected technologies,
such as biological control of pests, to apply in their “conventional”
crops. Developing environmentally-friendly approaches is important
because greenhouse production is intensive: greenhouses apply 10
times the amount of fertilizer per acre as field crops.
Fisher, who holds a joint appointment as a UNH Cooperative Extension
specialist in floriculture, says he “always looks for connections
between research, teaching, and extension.” He has developed
a software program, UNH FloraTrack, that helps hundreds of growers
ensure their poinsettia crop is on track for timely holiday delivery,
and he teaches his students some of the real-world lessons of professional
The poinsettias give students in Environmental Horticulture course
a hands-on education to the science of greenhouse plant production.
Throughout the semester, they study the effects of environmental
factors such as nutrition, light, and temperature on plant growth.
The Whittemore Center poinsettia tree adds a sense of real-world
responsibility to these budding growers, says Fisher.
“The quality of our students’ plants is something tens
of thousands of people will see,” he says.
The poinsettia tree at UNH’s Whittemore Center, on display
until December 19, is sponsored by the Anna and Raymond Tuttle Environmental
Horticulture Fund, the UNH Cooperative Extension, the Department
of Plant Biology, and the Thompson School of Applied Science.
A 12-foot poinsettia tree, featuring a range of exotic poinsettias
grown to organic standards by students in associate professor Paul
Fisher’s Environmental Horticulture class, brightens UNH’s
Whittemore Center this month. Photo courtesy UNH Media Relations.
Kris Krinkle is just one of the unusual poinsettias that decorate
the poinsettia tree in the lobby of UNH’s Whittemore Center
this month. All poinsettias were grown to organic standards by students
in associate professor Paul Fisher’s Environmental Horticulture
class. Photo courtesy UNH Media Relations.