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Poinsettias: Then and Now

I was going through some old folders and came across The Evening Star newspaper from December 17, 1964 starring ME on the front page. I think there was once an old, faded, framed copy of it hanging somewhere here at the nursery, but I have not seen it in a few years.  I was about six  in this photo, and I remember being picked up that day and put on a greenhouse bench surrounded by all of the beautiful red poinsettias. Someone was telling me to smile, the photographer was telling me to point, and my grandfather, Albert Behnke, was telling me to be careful and not to break the poinsettias.  Forget smiling–I was nervous and wondering why in the world I was standing on the bench when that was pretty much a BIG no-no during poinsettia time.

Not so many years ago Behnke’s still grew all of our own poinsettias, as we had in this photo. Now we buy from local growers who still take the same care that my grandparents did from the beginning. Marian, our poinsettia buyer, travels during the growing season to personally check out how the plants are doing and ensure that they meet our quality standards.

Growing a poinsettia that will end up in your home takes months and months. Starting in late spring with what are called stock plants, you have to start taking cuttings, unless you are buying the cuttings from a specialist poinsettia cutting grower. It takes getting up before daylight to get a head start on the heat of the day so the cuttings don’t wilt. My husband and I used to grow poinsettias when we had our own wholesale nursery and I have to admit that they were one of the most stressful crops to grow. Besides having to start with the perfect size cutting and making sure our greenhouses were completely sterile, we had to hope and pray that we made the correct choices in just how many red, white and pink we thought would sell and in what sizes. As summer turned into fall, care had to be taken that lights would not shine into the greenhouses at night (because the poinsettias sense the light and it delays or prevents blooming) and that our heaters would not shut off (because poinsettias are tropical and cold temperatures can damage or kill them).  In the end, we were pleased with the results of our efforts. A tiny 6 inch cutting turned into a beautiful, full poinsettia.

Back when I was standing on that bench there were really only three colors to choose from. Red, pink and white. Later, along came marble. Now, you will find so many different choices of colors and sizes, plus, if you want a blue one, no worries–we will paint a white one for you, complete with glitter!  I wonder what my grandparents would think of painted poinsettias?  I think they would love them!

by Stephanie Fleming, Behnke’s Vice President

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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