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Colorful Tradition at UNH


DURHAM — For eight years, visitors to the University of New Hampshire's Macfarlane Greenhouses have been amazed by the variety of poinsettias on display and available for sale, and the three-day event has become a holiday tradition people look forward to.

The university serves as a trial center for poinsettia breeders, and each year it receives a new batch of trimmings to grow, monitor and report back on.

This year, more than 100 varieties are on display from traditional, vibrant reds to creamy whites, soft and sharp pinks and variegated varieties with a unique name for each plant.

This year, the annual Poinsettia Trials Open House will be held today from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Visitors will assist in research by recording their favorites from among new and different varieties. The information will be reported back to the breeders.

Similar trials take place at universities and commercial greenhouses across the country, allowing breeders and growers the chance to evaluate regional differences in growth and performance.

David Goudreault, manager of the Macfarlane Greenhouse facility, said this year the color is better and the plants are stronger, but there are no dramatic newcomers to the scene. He said white varieties are something breeders have been working with to get a purer white.

In cooler temperatures, particularly in the greenhouse, the color tends to mute to a more creamy beige, but breeders are getting closer, with a relatively new variety called Glace by Dummen appearing to the be the purest white variety in the UNH greenhouse collection so far.

Last year, Sparkling Punch was introduced with an ice-crystal type pattern on the soft pink leaves. Goudreault said Red Glitter is a nice improvement this year over previous speckled-type reds. Red continues to be the favored color.

"The novelties here sell out at the plant sale mainly because you don't see them anywhere else, but when you talk to wholesale growers, they are not as big of a seller," Goudreault said.

Most of the improvement to the plants has been in terms of pattern stability and stability of the plant overall. He said breeders are looking for plants that are more durable for shipping and handling while ensuring the end user will receive a quality plant that will last them through the holidays.

Overall, Goudreault said there does not seem to be a bad variety in this year's batch.

"That was not the case even five years ago. Older varieties that were weaker and didn't perform as well have been eliminated and replaced with new varieties," Goudreault said. "You could take any one of these plants and it would do extraordinarily well."

What makes poinsettias unique is their short life and the time in which they flower and produce color — just in time for the holidays.

Goudreault said decorating is an important part of many people's holidays, and poinsettias are a natural addition, no matter the color scheme.

The plants are not easy to grow. It starts in July from a rooted cutting that takes until November to reach its full potential.

A quality plant will last into January or February, Goudreault said, and with some care, can be kept as a foliage plant throughout the year. Re-flowering a poinsettia is not an easy task either, but for those interested, UNH Cooperative Extension has created a pamphlet of instructions.The UNH event is hosted by the Macfarlane Greenhouses, the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station and the Thompson School Horticultural facility.

New to the event this year is a wreath-decorating activity being led by the Thompson School Horticulture Club.

The open house is held in the Macfarlane Greenhouses, 296 Mast Road in Durham on the west edge of the UNH-Durham campus.

Thompson School ornamental horticulture students will have a range of poinsettia varieties available for purchase during the event and throughout the holiday season until Dec. 24.

gmacalaster@newstote.com

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