The greenhouses in Orange Coast College's horticulture department had been cleaned out of all but a few brightly colored poinsettias by Friday afternoon.
Just a few days before OCC's 36th annual poinsettia sale, the college's five greenhouses had been packed with 11,000 flowering peppermint, ice punch, winter rose, red and white plants.
Students in instructor John Lenanton's horticulture class spent the fall semester planting, caring for and harvesting the festive plants for the sale.
Each week, students checked the plants for pests and diseases and measured them to ensure they were reaching the appropriate size for the sale.
"Poinsettias are a great plant because you can see them grow from beginning to end," said student Nancy Brown, 54. "The last four weeks we cried because the plants were so beautiful. Seeing them full grown was a special experience."
The sale holds a special place in the hearts of the community around the holidays, and many of the same people buy plants every year, said Cindi Finley, 60, another horticulture student.
"The sale is part of the rich history of the college," she said. "It's incredible being a part of something that is bigger than us."
Money collected from the poinsettia sale goes back into the horticulture program, which allows it to continue year after year.
Poinsettias are the ideal plant to teach students about growing in a greenhouse because of how much attention and care they require, Lenanton said.
"If they can learn how to grow a poinsettia, they can extrapolate all that information to be able to grow virtually any plant in a greenhouse," he said.
About 75% of the poinsettia crop was claimed by community members during a presale event the college hosted Thursday. In order to buy poinsettias a day early, shoppers must commit to purchasing $100 worth of the holiday plants, which go for $5 to $40 each, depending on the size.
Robert Schober and his mother, Mary, both of Huntington Beach, participated in the presale event, but returned Friday to pick through the last of the crops in search of a holiday gift.
After examining several 4-inch poinsettias in holiday-themed baskets, Mary Schober decided on a winter rose plant in a gold, sparkling Christmas sleigh adorned with a red bow.
"This one is perfect," she said, handing the sleigh to her son.
The Schober family make it a tradition to attend the sale each year, Robert Schober said.
"It's great because it gives back to OCC and helps fund the horticulture program," he said. "The students put so much time into caring for the plants. They are unlike anything you can find at other stores this time of year."