First published in South Florida Sun-Sentinel By Daniella Aird Staff Writer 

As Christmas creeps closer, local florists are scrambling to find the season’s signature shrub: poinsettias.

Local growers say South Florida’s supply of the red- and white-leafed plants was mostly wiped out by Hurricane Wilma. Shop owners are now turning to out-of-state suppliers to stock their shelves in time for the holidays.

Heidi Richards (Mooney), who owns  Eden Florist and Gift Baskets, said several customers are asking for the holiday plant, but she can’t find a nearby poinsettia patch to pick from. She’s considering having a batch shipped from another state to her store on Pembroke Road, but that means she’ll have to raise her prices. Poinsettias normally cost $12.99 to $40 apiece, depending on size, she said.

“I usually get them from a grower in Palm Beach,” she said. “It costs so much money to have them shipped in. Obviously, the farther you go to get them, the more you have to raise the price.”

Wilma’s winds ravaged acres of poinsettias just as growers were getting ready to ship them to shop owners, said John Klingel, director of the South Florida Center for Floral Studies in West Palm Beach. Because poinsettias are normally grown in open fields, farmers couldn’t protect their crops, he said.

“It was the worst time to get hit by wind gusts,” he said. “It’s been an unusual season. We’ve never had this happen before.”

At Floral Acres, a Boynton Beach nursery, employee Bill Newton said Wilma wrecked the company’s entire crop of about 50,000 poinsettias, including 28 acres of shade canopy. He said the nursery, which supplies plants to several South Florida florists, is having plants shipped in from North Carolina and Virginia.

While poinsettias typically adorn church sanctuaries, congregants at St. Marks Episcopal Church in Oakland Park will be seeing less red this Christmas, said parish administrator LaVerne Turck. She said the church usually orders about 70 plants for the season, but this year they’re getting half that amount.

“Our florist told us about the shortage so we were modest in our order,” Turck said. “We didn’t want to horde them.”

Memorial Presbyterian Church in West Palm Beach expects to get its shipment of 65 poinsettias soon. Church secretary Carol Olin said she wasn’t even aware of the flower fallout.
“Wow,” she said. “I placed my order early. I hope we’re still on target.”

Poinsettias, named after the nation’s first ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett, made their American debut in 1825, when Poinsett sent samples from Mexico to his home in Greenville, S.C. Since then, the plants have been synonymous with the season.

Wilton Manors Nursery owner Diane Hutcheson says if she can’t find a local supplier, she might not sell any poinsettias this year.

“They’re so fragile it doesn’t make sense to have them shipped,” she said. “We’re going to go out next week and see what’s out there.”

Daniella Aird can be reached at 954-572-2024

Pronounced “poyn-seht-ee-uh,” according to World Book Encyclopedia.
In their natural setting, poinsettias are perennial shrubs that can grow 10 feet tall.
As potted plants, they grow 1 to 4 feet tall.
Poinsettias are not poisonous.
Poinsettias are commercially grown in all 50 states.
National Poinsettia Day is celebrated on Dec. 12.
Poinsettias are available in more than 100 varieties. Plants are usually bright red, but may also be yellowish or white.
Poinsettias are the nation’s best-selling potted plants.
An estimated $220 million worth of poinsettias are sold during the holiday season.

Source: University of Illinois Extension Web site

Order your poinsettia’s while supplies last.