December 16, 2008

Kate Elliot
Communications Specialist

Homegrown Poinsettias Bring Holiday Cheer and Campus Savings

VALDOSTA - Every morning VSU Horticulturalist Bobby Flowers enters the greenhouse, turns up the country music, “which keeps the plants upbeat,” and enters a field of giant poinsettia bushes he nurtured from clippings nearly four years ago.

The bushes he placed throughout campus are the descendants of 10 plants VSU Special Events purchased for the December 2005 graduation.

“We lost a few [plants] during our first attempt to propagate because the streetlights interrupted their need to develop in the darkness of night,” said Flowers, who has worked at VSU for seven years. “But we figured them out, and now I think they look better and more natural than anything you can find in stores.”

To mature into their characteristic crimson red petals, poinsettias require uninterrupted dark nights for about two months during autumn. Incidental light, even the indirect hue of street lights, can inhibit flower production.

Ann Lacey, director of Special Events, said she had no idea the plants she gave Flowers years ago would develop into such vibrant greenery.

The traditional holiday plants lined the podium during the December graduation. Dozens of attendants commented about poinsettias’ ability to induce the heartwarming holiday spirit. VSU art students, also intrigued by the lush plants’ beauty, have come to the greenhouse to draw the poinsettias bunched up in all their glory.

Flowers said beyond the plants’ undeniable aesthetic appeal, their true gift to the university is that growing them costs about one third of their retail price.

“Most colleges and universities contract out for plants and flowers,” said Flowers, a two-time COSA chair. “Because we grew them here, they look more naturally beautiful, and the only cost is water and the minimal time to tend to them.”

Poinsettias are not the only greenery Flowers has bred in VSU’s greenhouse located on north campus. The ferns and daylilies that brighten VSU events started as cuttings from larger plants. The greenhouse is a working plant farm, with plants and flowers in various stages of growth.

“We’ve had people bring us plants or flowers, which we then grow into of plants or flowers that we use to beautify the campus,” said Flowers, who is in his second year as Chair of the University System of Georgia Staff Council. “We got the first of our daylilies from behind the cooling unit at Palms Dining Center.”

But during the winter months, the other flowers and plants disappear from view when people enter “Poinsettia City,” as Flowers now calls the greenhouse. The sprightly red of the poinsettias consumes your vision.

“The plant is truly the symbol of the holidays,” said Flowers. “We are so proud that we were able work with these plants during the past four years so that we can bring cheer to the campus.”