Poinsettias are the best-selling potted flowering plant in the United States and, they are a traditional part of Christmas celebrations, which is why almost all of them are sold in the winter. The Department of Agriculture estimates that Americans bought $250 million worth of poinsettias last year.
The poinsettia is native to Central America and needs warmth to grow. Bright red poinsettias are the best known. But there are about 100 different kinds, in colors including white, pink, yellow and purple. The flowers of the poinsettia are very small. Around the flowers are colorful leaves called bracts. These bracts are what give the plants their beauty. The poinsettia is named for Joel Roberts Poinsett from South Carolina.
In 1825 President John Quincy Adams appointed him as the United States' first minister to Mexico. Mr. Poinsett had an interest in plants. He saw the colorful plants growing in the wild and sent some cuttings back to the United States.
In the 1920s, Albert Ecke and his son Paul became interested in the poinsettia's ability to flower in winter. Paul Ecke thought it would be a good plant to display at Christmastime. They started a farm near Encinitas, California. At first, Paul Ecke and later his son grew large plants in fields. Then they sent them to growers by train. Growers would divide the large plants into cuttings, to raise smaller ones in greenhouses until the holidays. Today Ecke Ranch remains a major supplier to the United States and the world. In 2012, Paul Ecke's grandson announced that the company was joining the Dutch-based Agribio Group.
For VOA Learning English, I'm Carolyn Presutti.