The market for poinsettias — the colorful traditional Christmas holiday plant that has Suffolk County among its largest producers in New York State — is wilting, according to wholesale growers, agricultural authorities and consumers.
A U.S. Department of Agriculture study has found that New York State has seen a nearly 19 percent drop in wholesale poinsettia production from 2010 to 2014, with Suffolk County accounting for more than one-third of all poinsettias produced in New York.
The decline is part of a national trend that shows the poinsettia withering in seven states that are among the top 15 producers of the plant. The largest dip is in South Carolina, where the poinsettia originated in the United States. There the amount of wholesale production dropped 80 percent during the four-year period.
California, which is the nation’s top poinsettia producer, has seen a production falloff of 11 percent. Hawaii, Ohio, Oregon and Texas posted decreases of 31 percent, 33 percent, 21 percent and 25 percent, respectively.
Those familiar with the poinsettia business cite waning consumer interest, the economy and competition from large stores and big-box retailers such as Walmart and Kmart as some of the factors that have stunted sales and production in some areas.
“It’s a combination of things,” said Nora Catlin, a floriculture specialist with the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County in Riverhead. She said the demand for poinsettias might be dying along with a few other traditions.
Catlin noted that poinsettias for generations used to be the go-to hostess gift for a Christmas gathering, and now that custom and the plant may be considered old-fashioned.
“Maybe more people are bringing wine . . . ,” Catlin said. “You can kind of blame it on the plant for being almost too successful; there are so many out there that they’re not as special anymore. It’s a shame because you see them in some greenhouses and garden centers and they’re beautiful. And where are you going to get that kind of color in December?”
Available in many colors
Red remains the most popular color for poinsettias, according to Leonard Perry, a professor at the University of Vermont Extension Department of Plant and Soil Science, who said the hue accounts for about three-quarters of all poinsettia sales nationwide, followed by white and pink. Mark Van Bourgondien, co-owner of CJ Van Bourgondien Inc. in Peconic, said the wholesale greenhouse also produces white and pink (second on the popularity list), and other varieties that include marble, jingle bell (white that looks splattered with paint), blue, lilac and fuchsia.
Jeanne Theriault, who works at an Ulster Savings mortgage center in Riverhead, said she buys poinsettias for the office every year because they’ve become such a common symbol of the holidays.
“It’s a traditional office kind of thing because it’s not a Santa Claus,” she said. “Every year I get them — they give a punch of color to the room — and holiday color without being a Christmas tree.”
When it comes to buying poinsettias for her own home, Theriault said that hasn’t been part of her personal tradition. The opposite is true in Hempstead, at the home of Elizabeth Rodriguez’s grandmother. Rodriguez, of Manhattan, said Ismarelda Rodriguez, 80, would be upset if she didn’t have poinsettias for Christmas.
“When we grandkids go over there to see her we know what we’d better bring,” said Elizabeth Rodriquez, 40. “We’ve tried to bring other gifts and she always says, ‘Where are my poinsettias?’ And they have to be deep red.”
Rodriguez’s daughter, Zoraida Colon, 18, sees red when she sees poinsettias.
“I don’t know, I just can’t stand them,” she said. “They’re played out. They’re for old ladies.”
Economy called a problem
Robert Carpenter, administrative director of the Calverton-based Long Island Farm Bureau, the nonprofit membership association that advocates for the local agricultural industry, views the economy as a big problem for the poinsettia.
“I know there have been some that have stopped growing them because of the cost of production,” he said. “There’s also the high cost of living on Long Island. People have had to take care of their priorities, and it makes it more difficult to spend extra for Christmas.”
Bob Van Bourgondien, co-owner of CJ Van Bourgondien, said the family business started in 1939 and there has been a significant drop in its poinsettia production since then, as well as the space devoted to the plants.
“We transitioned and brought poinsettias into the business in 1977,” Van Bourgondien said. “We needed something to fill the greenhouses at the time of year when we didn’t have produce, when we didn’t have cash flow.”
He said the greenhouse, which supplies higher-end independent stores, including Hicks Nurseries in Westbury, Lynch’s Garden Center in Southampton Village, Rick’s Nursery in Dix Hills and Garden World in Flushing, Queens, now produces 200 baskets of poinsettias a year compared with an all-time high of 1,000 annually, and that the space for poinsettia production has been reduced from 90,000 square feet to 65,000 square feet.
Dennis Limonius, one of the owners of Buckley’s Flower Shop on Montauk Highway in East Hampton Village, buys his poinsettias from CJ Van Bourgondien. He said Buckley’s saw a lot more poinsettia shoppers when it opened in the 1960s.
Though he said there doesn’t seem to be as much interest in passing on traditions, such as buying poinsettias as holiday decorations, as there once was, Limonius concedes that he still sells about 800 of the plants a year. And others agree the plant generally has staying power.
“I don’t know what you can really do to bring the oomph back,” she said. “But almost every garden center open in the winter will still have poinsettias.”