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November 25. 2012 8:27PM

Poinsettias: Beyond the traditional red at UNH open house


David Goudreault, assistant manager at the MacFarlane Greenhouses at the University of New Hampshire, stands with 114 varieties of poinsettia that will be on display during the seventh annual Poinsettia Trials Open House Thursday, Nov. 29 through Saturday, Dec. 1. (GRETYL MACALASTER PHOTO)
DURHAM - Poinsettias aren't just red. And these holiday-season house plants aren't always short.

The Macfarlane Greenhouses, the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station and the Thompson School horticultural facility at the University of New Hampshire will prove just that as they host the popular Poinsettia Trials Open House this week.

Visitors to the free event, now in its seventh year, will enjoy more than 100 poinsettia varieties and assist in ongoing research. It runs Thursday to Saturday.

Poinsettias on display will go far beyond the traditional red to shades of pink, apricot and deep burgundy; variations of red, white and pink shades; and those with names like Polar Bear, Red Glitter, Holly Jolly Dark Red, Sparkling Punch, Candlelight, Tapestry and Ruby Frost.

"This year, we have more new, experimental varieties than we've ever had," said David Goudreault, assistant manager of the greenhouses.

Visitors will assist in research by recording their favorites from among new and different varieties. In addition, visitors can tour the greenhouses and view the 12-foot poinsettia tree in the lobby of the Whittemore Center.

A broad selection of the many poinsettia varieties will be available for purchase from Thompson School students on all three days and throughout the holiday season, until Dec. 24.

The Poinsettia Trials at UNH is a collaborative event to bring research to breeders, growers and the public. Similar trials take place at universities and commercial greenhouses across the country, allowing breeders and growers to evaluate regional differences in the growth and performance of new cultivars. This information provides a basis for choosing the best cultivars for a particular growing environment and market.

A small number of rooted cuttings are sent to the Mcfarlane Greenhouse each year and are "potted up" in August. They reach full maturity just in time for the trials.

During the growing period, researchers monitor the height of plants, the size of the "bracts" each week and each plant's overall vigor and condition. Factors can be manipulated to slow down or speed up growth as necessary.

That information is sent back to the poinsettia breeders to give them an idea of how different plants will perform in the Northeast.

"It is an opportunity for local growers, too who will grow poinsettias in the New Hampshire area to view different varieties and how they compare," Goudreault said.

He added that there was no trial like this in New England until UNH started their program seven years ago.

The Poinsettia Trials Open House is at the Macfarlane Greenhouses at 296 Mast Road, on the west edge of campus, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

On Thursday and Friday metered parking is available at the UNH Visitor Center across from the greenhouses; parking on Saturday is free.

The greenhouses are also served by Wildcat Transit's free shuttle service; for details, go to wildcattransit.com.

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