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Poinsettias are a very popular holiday plant. In fact, the vibrant colored plants are a $250 million-dollar industry in the US with more than 70 million potted poinsettias sold every year.

A native of Mexico, the poinsettia, also known as Euphorbia pulcherrima, was introduced to the Unites States in 1829 by Joel Roberts Poinsett, a botanist and the first U.S. Minister to Mexico. After discovering the shrub growing in an area of Southern Mexico known as Taxco del Alarcon, he sent cuttings and seeds back to his greenhouses in South Carolina where he began growing poinsettias and gifting them to friends.

One of those friends was Robert Carr, a commercial nurseryman based in Philadelphia. His wife, Ann Bartram Carr, was the granddaughter of John Bartram who established Bartram's Botanic Garden in Philadelphia, where the first poinsettias were successfully grown in the U.S. Carr made a public introduction of the poinsettia to the American public in 1829 at the first exhibition of the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society, now an annual event known as the Philadelphia Flower Show.

The plant caught the eye of an emigrant Scottish gardener, Robert Buist, who would be the first to sell the plant to the public in the U.S. as well as helping introduce the poinsettia to Europe. Buist had trained at Scotland’s Edinburg Botanic Garden where he met James McNab, who eventually became the Garden’s director. On a visit to Philadelphia, McNab took a plant back to the Edinburg and gave it to Robert Graham, the director of the Royal Botanic Garden. Graham is credited for changing the plants name to Poinsettia pulcherrima, leading to the name that most are familiar with.

Growing poinsettias today
Poinsettias are exquisite blooms that take a lot of work and skill to grow. In most areas, given seasonal climate, they require a greenhouse. Poinsettias will not grow well at temperatures below 50˚F or 10°C and therefore, must be heated and protected.

Greenhouse operators are equally dependent of poinsettias. While there is certainly money to be made from a vibrant crop of poinsettias, the real benefit is helping growers keep their employees and facilities up and running all year long. Poinsettias start to grow when most other high cash crops and plants will refuse to flourish – with planting starting in the late summer so that poinsettias are in full bloom and ready to ship in early November for the holidays. Therefore, they are a valuable greenhouse crop that helps contribute a steady stream of income and work for employees.

Pops of color
Most flowers bloom in spring, summer, and sometimes, fall. Poinsettias, however, are birds of a completely different feather.

Poinsettias bloom but not like most would think. A poinsettia has small yellow flowers that bloom at the center of its branches. Clearly, a poinsettia’s flower does not provide its big pop of color. Rather, it is a poinsettia’s leaves or ‘bracts’ which change from green to red or other shades through a process called photoperiodism. In this process, living organisms respond to certain amounts of light or darkness. For poinsettias, this brilliant discoloration only occurs when daylength drops to between 10 and 12 hours of sunlight per day. This process can bring out far more hues and shades even more than the typical Christmas tones.

Today, poinsettias come in more than 100 distinct colors and varieties. Many poinsettia breeds are patented, especially those that are Christmas “themed” and colored. Growers, therefore, need to be aware of what varieties they are growing to assure they are not violating without the proper permissions.

While there is certainly money to be made from a vibrant crop of poinsettias, the real benefit is helping growers keep their employees and facilities up and running all year long.

Protecting the product and the process
While many poinsettias are grown in and exported from tropical areas, for everyone else, this is where greenhouses play a key role in getting these valued holiday plants to the market. The right insurance protection plays a valuable role too.

Greenhouse growers rely on a variety of coverages, often combined in tailored package insurance programs, to protect their crop, property and expected poinsettia income:

  • Property insurance: Given that greenhouses are so important in poinsettia production, it is important for growers to have the right property protection in place that can help them quickly address damage that may result from fire, windstorms or other unruly weather. Since these greenhouses are full of poinsettia crops during the late fall and early winter, growers must be particularly careful with snow. In one claim situation, a collapsed roof resulted from snow load and claimed a grower’s entire poinsettia crop just before they were ready to be shipped to market. Hailstorms, which are relatively frequent in the United States, can also pose significant damage to a greenhouse structure and put a poinsettia crop in jeopardy.

  • Income protection: Greenhouse operators who rely on summer crops for most of their income still like to take advantage of assuring additional wintertime income by expanding into poinsettia production. If they were to lose their crop of poinsettias, insurance coverage is available to protect the value of the poinsettia crop from the moment of germination to the moment the plant goes to market. An insurance policy can cover the grower for the market rate that they would sell them.

  • In-transit coverage: Available programs for greenhouse operators also include commercial auto and in-transit coverage which protects the plants from the time they leave the greenhouse until they get to their final retail destinations.

  • Equipment breakdown (EB): With the right heating elements and other fine-tuned equipment for production, including conveyors and heating systems, poinsettias can be grown just about anywhere, even in harsh winters, just long as they’re kept at the perfect temperature and conditions. When equipment fails however, growers often rely on EB coverage to address the costs of repair or lost revenue that results from equipment breakdown. As mentioned earlier, light deprivation is an important part of the poinsettia growing process. Greenhouses use shade cloths that help seal, protect, and block plants from light exposure for strictly scheduled periods of time every day. These shades, which are often on timers, help growers simulate the shorter daylengths that poinsettias will need to develop their signature colors. A shade cloth malfunction could significantly impact the poinsettia growing process and alter its color and market value. EB coverage helps growers assure any breakdown gets addressed quickly to allow the growing process to continue uninterrupted.

Preserving a holiday tradition
It is hard to imagine a holiday without the color that poinsettias bring. In fact, this year, given the global pandemic, growers expect the demand for holiday traditions like poinsettias to be high, especially for its traditional colors of red, white and pink.

Poinsettia growers follow a strict growing regimen to get these plants to our homes. To help keep them flourishing once they get there, here are some tips to consider: 

  • Avoid putting poinsettias in direct sunlight. They stay fresher with just a few hours of indirect light each day.
  • Do not place poinsettias near heating vents or doors. Poinsettias stay the freshest in a cool room but away from drafts.
  • Water a poinsettia only when it is dry. Too much or too little water will cause the lower leaves to yellow and drop.
  • Don’t expose poinsettias to cold temperatures. That’s why most greenhouses/ garden centers wrap poinsettias for transport outside.

December 12th is National Poinsettia Day in the U.S. December 12 marks the death of Joel Roberts Poinsett, the man responsible for bringing the plant to the U.S. Now it’s a day to celebrate the most recognizable plant of the holidays, and let’s not forget all the growers and partners who help assure the successful growth of these colorful plants to light up the holidays.


About the authors
Thomas A. Doherty is Senior Vice President for Specialty Programs at NIP Group, a specialized business insurance and risk management intermediary ranked within the 100 largest in the United States. Their greenhouse and nursery grower business insurance program, GrowPro, provides specialized coverage for the growing industry and is a proud member of the National Hemp Association & AmericanHort.

Bryan Mierzwinski is a Senior Program Underwriter with AXA XL’s North America Program business. He can be reached at


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