GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Some new treats are available for the holidays, but don’t look for them in the candy aisle or bakery — try the florist instead.
These indulgences are eye candy, with names like Christmas Cookie, Santa Claus Candy, Peppermint, Champagne and Plum Pudding. The food-themed names belong to several new varieties of poinsettia developed this year. University of Florida environmental horticulturist James Barrett said companies in California and Germany that developed the roughly two dozen new strains of poinsettias for this year are responsible for naming the new varieties. “All the Christmas names related to food are fairly interesting and new for poinsettias because we haven’t had those types of names before,” said Barrett, a professor with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Barrett said new varieties of poinsettia are developed in response to consumer demand. The poinsettia is the most popular potted plant in the country, with nearly 75 million sold each year, he said. “Red is a very traditional poinsettia color, a very traditional Christmas color, so 75 percent of poinsettias are red,” Barrett said. “However, there’s a lot of interest in the nice white colors, and pinks are also important. “That’s part of the difference we are adding to poinsettias today, and the consumers are responding to it,” he said. The new variations range from the deep, bright red of Christmas Cookie to Santa Claus Candy, which sports a light pink color highlighted with red so it looks somewhat like cotton candy. For poinsettia fans with a daring streak, there’s the light red of Champagne or the deep purple of Plum Pudding. “A lot of purple is being used in Christmas decorations,” Barrett said. “As soon as we started talking about a purple poinsettia, we started getting calls from people that had heard about it because of the interest in having a poinsettia with slightly nontraditional Christmas color.”Unfortunately for fans of the color purple, Barrett said, Plum Pudding was developed too late to make this year’s selling season. But based on the intense interest already expressed by consumers, the new poinsettia should be widely available next year. Barrett said poinsettia breeders can work with more than just the color of the plant to create new varieties of the holiday favorite. “Growers also try to provide poinsettias that have different appearances,” Barrett said. “Instead of having standard-looking leaves, some new varieties have leaves that look like oak leaves with distinct points. “Other varieties have leaves with a nice rich yellow and green color that looks like holly,” he said. “Combine that with a red bract — the special colorful leaves in a poinsettia — and you have a variety called Holly Point, which has a nice Christmas look to it but is very different from traditional poinsettias.”The latest varieties of poinsettias were shown off recently at the annual field trials at UF. Barrett said the trials help determine which plants are best suited for particular regions of the country. “It’s important to determine which varieties will grow best in different environments.” Barrett said. “This allows us to recommend to producers in the different parts of the country the varieties they should grow. “This means consumers will find better quality poinsettias in stores in their part of the country,” he said. To make sure poinsettias make it through the holidays, consumers need to take care when selecting their plants, he said. “When buying a poinsettia, consumers need to make sure they are buying a nice fresh-looking plant that hasn’t been damaged physically in handling and shipping,” Barrett said. “The poinsettia should not be placed in a draft or where the plant will have hot air blowing across it which would cause it to dry out too fast.