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Published: Saturday, 12/27/2008

Poinsettia prices never wilted for holidays

ASSOCIATED PRESS

CHESHIRE, Conn. - Just about everything was on sale for Christmas this year - except poinsettias.

Record energy prices last summer drove up the cost of heating greenhouses and fueling delivery trucks, forcing distributors to pass along higher costs to retailers.

Many growers planted fewer cuttings, and some took a rare hiatus from producing the iconic holiday plants.

Florists said the wholesale cost of poinsettias rose 10 percent to 15 percent, though they tried to absorb as much of the hit as they could at a time when consumers were feeling the brunt of a recession.

Lynne Moss, owner of The Flower Shoppe in Pratt, Kan., said her usual poinsettia distributor had none to offer this year, requiring a special order. The result: Poinsettias that once cost $30-per-pot in her shop were about $35, depending on their size.

At a cost of anywhere from $15 to $40 per pot, Americans spend more than $1 billion a year on the flowering plant, which was introduced into America in 1825 by Joel Poinsett, who served as a minister to the United States in Mexico, where the plant is indigenous.

About 47.5 million poinsettias were produced for Christmas 2007, according to the American Society of Florists, which could not provide an estimate for this year's crop.

Most U.S. growers plant their poinsettias between June and September.

This year, that coincided with soaring energy prices, influencing many growers in cold-weather regions to cut back or eliminate their crops.

Poinsettias are extra energy intensive because they are spaced out in greenhouses to encourage them to grow thick and wide, not tall and skinny.

In Cheshire, which bills itself as the "bedding plant capital of Connecticut," several growers decided not to offer poinsettias this year or cut back.

Others, like Kurtz Farms in Cheshire, hoped that sticking with the iconic plant - even if they had to eat a portion of the increased costs - would pay off in customer loyalty.



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