Consumer Choices By Roberto Lopez, John Dole and Jim Barrett

The National Poinsettia Trials evaluate experimental and new varieties to provide greenhouse growers and breeders with information on how they perform in the northern, central and southern regions of the United States and compare them with older standard varieties. In addition to evaluating poinsettia cultivars, the University of Florida, North Carolina State University, Purdue University and Homewood Nursery opened their doors to the public and asked consumers to evaluate the poinsettias on display.

University of Florida (Gainesville, Fla.)

At the University of Florida, more than 400 consumers evaluated plants displayed in the greenhouse. Participants were asked to name their 10 favorite cultivars out of the 99 on display. Selected cultivars also were arranged in groups, and participants were asked to choose their favorite three novelty and red poinsettias and favorite white, pink, marble and peppermint. Plants were numbered and not labeled with a cultivar name. No incentives were provided to the public for voting.

North Carolina State University (Raleigh, N.C.)

At North Carolina State, all 102 cultivars were displayed indoors under fluorescent lighting, labeled with their cultivar name, for consumers to evaluate. To make the survey easier for the 160 attendees, cultivars were organized into six categories: novelty, red, white, pink, marble and peppermint. Consumers were asked to choose their three favorite cultivars out of all the cultivars on display and their three favorite cultivars within each group. Attendees were not offered an incentive for completing the survey.

Purdue University (West Lafayette, Ind.)

For the first time, a consumer open house was conducted on the Purdue University campus. Even with the cold and snowy weather, 255 participants attended the event. Consumers were asked to fill out a poinsettia preference and a sustainable poinsettia survey with the incentive of receiving a raffle ticket for a chance to win one of 24 poinsettia plants. All 95 cultivars were labeled with names and numbers and displayed indoors under fluorescent lighting. Participants were asked to choose their 10 favorite cultivars out of all those on display. In a separate room, selected cultivars were organized into four categories — novelty, red, white and pink — and labeled with a number, and participants were asked to choose their three favorite cultivars within each group.

Homewood Nursery (Raleigh, N.C.)

At Homewood Nursery, customers filled out 670 surveys from Nov. 22 to Dec. 13, 2008. Consumers were asked to select their five favorite cultivars out of 40 cultivars on display. No incentives were offered to customers for filling out a survey.

Consumer Consensus

For a second time, the celebrity of the trials was 'Ice Punch' from Paul Ecke Ranch. Consumers in Florida, Indiana and North Carolina once again fell in love with the bright, rosy-red bracts with icy-white centers. More than 60 percent of the public ranked 'Ice Punch' as their favorite cultivar out of 40 to 99 cultivars displayed. At all three university trial sites, it was the favorite novelty cultivar on display. The cultivar also ranks well with growers as it has a freely branching habit, mid-season flowering response and excellent post-production longevity. In addition, it is no longer an exclusive cultivar, so 'Ice Punch' will be available to all growers in 2009.

'Cortez Burgundy' from Syngenta Flowers was once again an overall favorite among survey participants at all four locations. Although it is a cultivar that was introduced nearly eight years ago, consumers are still attracted to its unique dark burgundy-red bracts, which age to dark red.

Among cultivars that ranked in the top 10 in at least three locations were DŸmmen USA's 'Premium Picasso', Paul Ecke Ranch's 'Ecke 54-06' and 'Polly's Pink', and Syngenta Flowers' 'Carousel Dark Red' and 'Sonora White Glitter'. Ecke's cultivar '54-06' is not yet available to growers but has potential to be a very important jingle-bell type for the South thanks to its upright habit, good branching and stem strength.

Reliable Reds

Coming to a consensus from North to South can be challenging for consumers when more than 50 percent of all the cultivars in the national trials are red cultivars. 'Mars Red', 'Prestige Red' and 'Classic Red' were selected as the best reds in 2008 in at least two locations. Southern voters ranked 'Prestige Red', 'Mars Red' and 'Classic Red' as their favorite reds at the University of Florida trial. Participants at NCSU chose 'Castor Red', 'Olympus' and 'Mars Red', while those at Homewood Nursery selected 'Prestige Red', 'Viking' and 'Premium Red'. Northern voters selected 'Red Elf', 'Classic Red', and 'Novia' as their top reds at the Purdue trial.

Winter Whites

For more than three years, 'White Christmas' has been selected by the public as their favorite white cultivar. At both the NCSU and Purdue trial sites, it was in the top 10 overall favorites list. Both old and new cultivars were also selected as the favorite whites. Those cultivars receiving more than 25 percent of the favorite white cultivar vote included 'Artic White' and 'Snowcap White'.

Perfect Pinks

Not surprisingly, 'Polly's Pink' was once again the standout pink cultivar thanks to its very bright, almost fluorescent pink bracts. It was the favorite pink at the University of Florida and NCSU. Other pink cultivars that were ranked at several locations include 'Mars Pink', 'Christmas Feelings Pink' and 'Christmas Angel Pink'.

Results Take-Home

We hope the trial results presented in the three articles help growers and breeders focus on which cultivars might be a best fit in the coming years. These trials would not be possible without the coordinated cooperation and support of DŸmmen USA, Paul Ecke Ranch, Florema, Selecta First Class, Syngenta Flowers and the University of Connecticut. Also instrumental in bringing these trials to fruition are our dedicated greenhouse staff, undergraduate and graduate students, including technicians Ingram McCall at North Carolina State University, Carolyn Bartuska at the University of Florida, and Diane Camberato at Purdue University.

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Roberto Lopez, John Dole and Jim Barrett

Roberto Lopez is an assistant professor and floriculture extension specialist at Purdue University. John Dole is a professor of floriculture at North Carolina State University. Jim Barrett is professor of floriculture at University of Florida. They can be reached at [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected], respectively.

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