fresh flower


Care tips for the hardy new varieties breeders are developing for use as cut flowers.

by Steven W. Brown, AIFD

Hydrangea macrophylla
Garden hortensia, Garden Hydrangea, Mophead Hydrangea
Photo courtesy of California Cut Flower Commission

1. staging a comeback. In the early 1900s, poinsettias (pronounced either “po-in-SET-ee-uh” or “po-in-SET-uh”) were popular as cut flowers, but they began to disappear in the 1920s, when consumers started to favor the potted versions. Now, poinsettias are emerging again as popular cut flowers because hardier varieties and better care technologies have been developed. Varieties that are finding success today as cut flowers include ‘Winter Rose Renaissance’ and ‘Winter Rose Crimson’, which have unusual curly bracts; ‘Jester’, with upright bracts available in red, pink, white and marble patterns; and ‘Renaissance Red’, with long stems (16 to 36 inches), large flower heads and excellent vase life (14 to 21 days).

2. your attention please. Unpack and remove bindings and sleeves from bunches of cut poinsettias immediately upon their arrival in your store. Cut the stems at an angle with a sharp knife or pruner. If foliage is present, remove whatever portion would fall below the water in the storage container.

3. treat the wounds. Poinsettias release a milky sap when cut. To prevent the loss of this life-sustaining substance, dip freshly cut poinsettia stems into a stem-dip hydration solution. This step is key to maximizing these flowers’ vase life. Alternatively, you can dip the cut stems in alum (available at drugstores and supermarkets) immediately after cutting—although the hydration solution is preferable.

4. food and shelter. Place cut poinsettias into a clean container half-filled with properly prepared flower-food solution. Let the flowers hydrate for at least two hours before sale or use. Frequent misting is beneficial, and antitranspirant sprays also will extend the vase life of these cut flowers. Cut poinsettias do not require refrigeration; instead, display them at room temperatures.

5. a deadly gas. Poinsettias naturally release ethylene gas, which will cause the leaves to drop. Make sure the flowers you purchase are treated with an ethylene inhibitor at the grower level or during transportation.

6. vase life. Depending on care and variety, cut poinsettias can last for seven to 10 days. They will last best in vase arrangements. Change the vase solution and recut the stems every other day or so. Avoid placing the flowers in direct sun and near any heat sources.

7. caution ahead. Although poinsettias are not toxic, as once widely believed, the milky sap can cause, in some people, stomach irritation if ingested and skin irritation if not washed off.

8. anatomy lesson. Poinsettias’ colorful petal-like bracts are really modified leaves. These bracts surround the real flowers, which appear as clusters of yellow “berries,” called cyathia.

9. family ties. Members of the Euphorbiaceae (spurge) family, poinsettias are native to tropical regions of Mexico as well as Central America, where they grow as large shrubs to heights of up to 12 feet. Including the succulent types of Euphorbias, there are between 1,600 and 2,000 species in this family.

10. ancient history. The genus Euphorbia is named for Euphorbus, who was the physician of King Juba II (c. 50 B.C. to A.D. 19) of Numidia (now Algeria). King Juba II was the first person to find a succulent, cactuslike type of these plants, and he named it after his physician. Poinsettias were introduced into the United States in 1825 by Joel Robert Poinsett, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, and the plants were named “poinsettia” in his honor.

information from:
Bay City Flower Company; Half Moon Bay, Calif.;
David Repetto; A. Repetto Nursery Inc.; Half Moon Bay, Calif.
The Royal Horticulture Society;
Texas Poinsettia Producers; College Station, Texas

Steven W. Brown, AIFD, is a professor and department chair of horticulture and floristry at City College of San Francisco with 29 years of consulting and educational experience in the floral industry. You may contact him by e-mail at or by phone at (415) 239-3140.

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