ENCINITAS — Ecke poinsettias are everywhere this holiday season including “The Tonight Show,” “The Jay Leno Show” and many American homes.
In 1923, Paul Ecke put Encinitas on the map when he relocated his poinsettia ranch from Hollywood to North County. Native to the jungles of Mexico, the plant was introduced into the United States in the early 1800s by Joel Roberts Poinsett. But it was Ecke who made the poinsettia as synonymous with the Christmas season as pine trees.
“Poinsettias bloom when the nights are long and the days are short which is why my grandfather turned them into the Christmas flower,” explained Paul Ecke III. “He said, ‘Wow, look at this plant! It blooms in the winter!’”
Today the younger Ecke continues to take the company to new heights.
“The poinsettia has become the living symbol of Christmas,” he said. “It’s the No. 1 flowering potted plant in America, even though it’s only sold six weeks out of the year.” He added that Ecke poinsettias corner 70 percent of the market.
For most of their history, poinsettias were raised locally contributing to Encinitas’ reputation as “the flower capital of the world.” In 1997, Paul III moved part of the operation to Guatemala where they produce cuttings for growers. In 2007, he licensed Armstrong Growers to produce Ecke-brand poinsettias.
Today the Ecke Ranch is exclusively a research and development operation that has produced about 65 varieties of poinsettias to date.
“We have the best genetics for growing,” Ecke said. “It’s not enough that they look pretty in the greenhouse, they have to be pretty in the consumer’s home.”
Ecke boasts about an onsite torture chamber where new varieties of poinsettias are tested.
“The leaves fall off most varieties,” he said. “The ones that look good we grow commercially. Our poinsettias are the toughest. We also think they are the prettiest.”
Recently the company introduced a line of fuel-efficient poinsettias that can grow in cold weather, saving growers thousands — even millions — of dollars in energy costs.
Last week Ecke traveled to the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas where he launched the new Polar Bear variety, touted as the whitest poinsettia available. A percentage of sales will benefit Polar Bears International, a nonprofit dedicated to the worldwide conservation of the polar bear and its habitat through research and education.
Ecke claims to have about 10 poinsettias in his Encinitas home during the holidays. He offers these tips for maintaining their beauty:
1. Place the pot where you are comfortable, avoiding extremes. “If you need to wear sunglasses, it’s too bright,” he said. “If you need to turn on a light, it’s too dark. If you need to wear a sweater, it’s too cold.”
2. Water the plant when it’s dry to the touch. “My dad would say that poinsettias like dry feet,” Ecke said. “Too many people water them too much — they love them too much.”
Most importantly, Ecke wants consumers to enjoy the holidays with the knowledge that poinsettias aren’t poisonous to either people or their pets.