By Lauren Wanko
A blanket of poinsettias covers the ground at Kube-pak Growers in Allentown. Staffers here don’t wait for the chilly temperatures to gear up for Christmas.
“All summer long, when nobody’s thinking about Christmas, we’re busily creating what you see here,” Co-owner Robert Swanekamp said.
Seemingly endless rows of colorful poinsettias are being packed and loaded up for shipment to garden centers and florists from Massachusetts to Virginia.
“We sleeve the plants that then protects the whole thing from getting bruised and getting broken,” Swanekamp said. “It enables us to get them on the truck in a very tight way so we get more on the truck.”
“It’s a living reminder of Christmas, of the holidays,” said Assistant Secretary of Agriculture Al Murray.
Murray says horticulture is the largest sector of New Jersey agriculture.
“The poinsettia industry is very important. It’s just one item of many that comprise of New Jersey’s floriculture industry. The floriculture industry in the state is worth about $195 million every year,” he said. “You couple that with the nursery industry, and horticulture and sod industry, and that accounts for about $445 million.”
This time of year lots of holiday shoppers flock to stores to buy the festive plant.
“Poinsettias is a tropical plant that originated from Mexico and brought into the U.S. by an individual back in the late 1800s and was hybridized and developed and bred to what we see today,” said Swanekamp.
Swanekamp says poinsettias didn’t become a Christmas staple until the mid-20th century.
“Breeders were able to create varieties that would hold up in a house,” he said.
In June growers here start by planting cuttings which are a stem cut from a plant with a growing tip and no roots. The pots are nurtured in the greenhouses.
“The idea with poinsettias is you want to grow them as aggressively as you can during the summertime when it’s warm,” Swanekamp said.
The plants’ leaves start to transform from green to a different color by about mid-October.
Kube-pak grows 95,000 pots of poinsettias every year. There are eight different varieties in all different colors; everything from pink to white to red, which is the most popular. That explains why 90 percent of the poinsettias here are red.
Purple, blue and even glitter are options now, too. Staffers spray paint white poinsettias.
When asked if there’s a market for that, Swanekamp said, “There is. It’s not a huge one, but yes there is.”
He says many people think the plant is toxic, but he insists that’s just a misconception.
“Poinsettias are not poisonous. If you sit down and you ingest a poinsettia you’re going to be sick, but like anything on a small amount of scale, it’s not going to hurt you,” he said.
These poinsettias will be completely cleared out within the next couple of weeks. Kube-pak needs the space for spring flowers and next year’s poinsettia pots