RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And when it comes to poinsettias, consumers used to have the choice of red or red. But demand is rising for dazzling new colors. Here in California, the world's largest poinsettia producer wants to change our perception of a Christmas tradition.
From member station KPBS, Andrew Phelps reports.
ANDREW PHELPS: Paul Ecke is walking into his private greenhouse in Encinitas, California. Seventy percent of the nation's poinsettias are born here on his family ranch. Ecke breeds wild variations on the standard red, and now he's already thinking two Christmases ahead.
Mr. PAUL ECKE (Poinsettia Breeder): We have to decisions about the color mix for 2008 right now. We have to decide how much white, how much pink, how much strawberries and cream, how much winter rose, how much ice punch.
PHELPS: Ecke breeds 32 varieties of red alone. It was his grandfather who first marketed the poinsettia as a Christmas plant, and although the market for red is reliable, it's flat.
Mr. ECKE: On one hand we're very happy that poinsettias are the number one flowering potted plant in America. On the other hand, we don't want to see them sold, you know, three for $10. We think they're worth a lot more than that. So we're doing things to add value. Painting is one of those things.
PHELPS: Growers increasingly want white poinsettias so they can spray paint them in colors nature never imagined. Sales of Ecke's white plants have jumped 10 percent a year since 2003. Now more homes and hotel lobbies pop with electric blue and purple plants. Small nurseries and Big Box Stores sell them for higher prices. It's a jolt to a conventional industry.
Mr. ECKE: There are those poinsettia purists out there that think painting is just not right. And I might have started out being on of those people, but I've converted to loving anything consumers love.
Unidentified Woman: I think they're horrible.
PHELPS: That's one of the purists.
Unidentified Woman: They go against God. To me, they're just - they're not authentic. It's just a false deal.
PHELPS: She won't give her name because she sells the painted plants at the Home Depot in Encinitas. A gardener herself, she thinks they're just trendy. For Ecke's part, he figures at least a million poinsettias are painted this holiday season. So maybe this isn't just a fad. Anyone got a fake Christmas tree?
For NPR News, I'm Andrew Phelps in San Diego.
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