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It’s Pink, It’s Peach, It’s Poinsettia : Poinsettias Burst Into Kaleidoscope of Colors : Traditional red holiday plants now come in variety of colors, such as yellow, gold, creamy white or peach, to suit a variety of decorating occasions and tastes.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; <i> Sidnam has written garden columns and features for The Times since 1975. </i>

Perhaps you have noticed that poinsettias--the traditional red Christmas plants--aren’t necessarily red any more.

Poinsettias also now come in a kaleidoscope of colors including yellow, gold, pink, creamy white, peach, rose and various color combinations.

According to Carolyn Mack at the Paul Ecke Poinsettia Ranch in Encinitas--the world’s largest breeder and producer of poinsettia plants--poinsettias are now available to suit a variety of occasions and decorating tastes. For instance, a new golden variety called Lemon Drop found great acceptance as a Thanksgiving plant because it blends in nicely with traditional Thanksgiving colors.

Mack says the acceptance of the new non-red poinsettias varies according to the different regions of the country. In Los Angeles the traditional reds make up about 65% of sales and the various non-reds account for about 35%. In the Midwest red poinsettias account for 90% of sales.

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Mack says that Los Angeles tends to be a trend-setting area and that many of the new poinsettia colors blend in well with the pastel shades used in many contemporary home decorating schemes.

Since more than 90% of the world’s poinsettia varieties have been developed by the Paul Ecke Ranch, I asked Mack to discuss trends in poinsettia development and tell about some of the new, unusual varieties.

He says that for the consumer, the ranch has concentrated on developing unusual colors that enhance home and office decorating possibilities, providing new forms such as erect rather than drooping foliage and producing plants that will remain beautiful in the home over a longer period of time.

As to new varieties, the ranch produces some exciting ones. Mack cautions that, before discussing varieties, one keeps in mind that the colorful parts of a poinsettia plant are the bracts. These are actually modified leaves that turn color in November and December when the natural day length decreases. The true flowers are the little yellow berries called cyathia, which are located in the center of the colorful bracts. So when referring to poinsettia color, it is actually the color of the bracts, rather than flower color, that is meant.

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Here are some of the striking new varieties to watch for at nurseries, supermarkets and floral shops. They are produced under the Eckespoint trademark.

--Pink Peppermint: An unusual new peachy-pink colored variety. It is softly speckled and can be perceived as either pink or peach, depending on the lighting and decorative accents used with it. Mack says Pink Peppermint is a perfect complement for pastel Southwestern and Mediterranean interiors.

--Lemon Drop: Features beautiful golden bracts, framed by very dark green foliage. Because of its warm golden coloring it is often used for Thanksgiving decorating.

--Jingle Bells: A speckled variety. The bracts are dark red speckled with light pink flecks. Mack describes Jingle Bells, “as resembling the traditional red poinsettia that someone has splashed pink paint on.”

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--Lilo: If you are only satisfied with the traditional red poinsettia, then Lilo is the plant for you. Its ruby red bracts are framed by very dark green foliage. But the feature that separates Lilo from other reds is that it’s the longest-lasting poinsettia on the market. It is also the most popular poinsettia variety.

--Celebrate: It is the plant habit that sets Celebrate apart from other varieties. It offers a unique look because the bracts bend upward rather than droop like other poinsettias. Mack says this feature gives the plants a light, buoyant, graceful appearance. Celebrate is available in pink or red colors.

No matter what color you prefer, Mack says that when purchasing a plant you should keep these pointers in mind.

* Look for plants with lush green foliage that is undamaged, unmarred, dense and plentiful--all the way down to the soil line. This is a good indication that the plants have healthy, active, root systems.

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* Choose plants with thoroughly colored and expanded bracts. Avoid plants tinged with too much green around the bract edges--this indicates the plant is not fully mature. Unlike a rosebud that will blossom and mature in the home, an underdeveloped poinsettia taken from the commercial greenhouse environment too soon may never achieve its full color potential.

* Check to make sure that the secondary smaller bracts that surround the cyathia are fully colored. If not, the plants will quickly fade and lose color in the home environment.

* Select plants that are balanced, full and attractive from all angles. Mack says to avoid large plants in very small pots. Proper proportion of plant height and shape to pot size is the key to a sturdy, aesthetically pleasing poinsettia.

* Plants should have strong, stiff stems. There should be no signs of wilting, breaking or excessive drooping (moderate drooping of the bracts is normal in most varieties).

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* Avoid waterlogged plants with an overwet soil condition, especially if the plant looks wilted. This is a possible sign of irreversible root rot.

After you have selected your plant, how do you take care of it? Mack offers these pointers.

* When transporting the plants home, make sure they are protected from temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Chilling causes the leaves to drop.

* Place in a room where there is sufficient natural light to read fine print. You should be able to observe a strong shadow with your hand.

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* Water plants thoroughly when you get them home. The entire soil area should be saturated so that water seeps through the drain hole. Remember to discard excess water. Never allow poinsettias to sit in water.

* Check the plants daily and water only when the soil feels dry to the touch.

* Fertilize plants within several days. They are without nutrients during the entire marketing process and will need a feeding then. Use liquid, pills, sticks or dry fertilizer according to the directions on the label.

* If you keep curtains drawn during the day to conserve heat, remember that poinsettias must have at least six hours of bright indirect light daily to thrive.

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* Keep plants away from drafts, radiators and hot air registers.

* To prolong the bright color of bracts, temperature should not exceed 72 degrees F in the day or 60 degrees F at night.

Mack notes that, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, poinsettia plants have become the No. 1 selling flowering potted plant in the country; even though their selling period is limited to six weeks around the holidays.


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