Inside the Paul Ecke Poinsettia Ranch

poinsettias growing

Nora Carol Photography / Getty Images 

About halfway between downtown San Diego and the southern reaches of California’s Orange County lies a nectar spot where many of the United States’ top flower-growers work their magic on some of the most breathtaking blooms you’ll ever witness. Among them: Tamaya’s Orchids, The Flower Fields, and the Paul Ecke (pronounced EH-kee) Ranch.

Drawn to the area's vast ranch lands near the coast, the mild year-round climate, and proximity to water, Paul Ecke Sr. relocated from L.A. to Encinitas in 1923. There, he continued to cultivate the exotic flower from Mexico that had been discovered by Joel R. Poinsett in the 1800s.

From 1929 until 1966, the Ecke Ranch's key business was producing field-grown poinsettia mother plants. For more than 40 years, the 25-acre ranch's main focus has been growing poinsettia cultivars in its greenhouses and shipping them to growers throughout the world.

Come inside the ranch, where more than 75% of U.S. and 50% of worldwide poinsettia plants get their start.

Inside the Paul Ecke Poinsettia Ranch

Like his late father and grandfather before him, Paul Ecke (pronounced EH-kee) III oversees the Ecke Ranch's worldwide operations from its headquarters in Encinitas, California. There, upon the same property where his grandfather built his house, grew his flower crops and produced superior cultivars in the numerous greenhouses, Ecke continues to lead the company into a high-tech world of international floriculture.

With a BS in horticulture from Colorado State University and an MBA from Duke University, Ecke combines his lifelong knowledge and love of plants with a sharp understanding of how to steer the Ecke Ranch into new directions. For the past several years, the ranch has been concentrating on scientific research and development of the poinsettia. An Ecke poinsettia still gets its start at the ranch, but cuttings are shipped to growers throughout the world. The poinsettias can then be grown to maturity in their greenhouse environments and sold locally to retailers. This way, the poinsettia arrives on store shelves and eventually to people's homes with a minimal amount of damage in transport.

So what makes a poinsettia an Ecke poinsettia?

"Breeding," says Ecke. "It's like a purebred Golden Retriever or a horse. When I sell a cutting to a grower, we go through a huge effort to purify the breeding process. You have to start with really good genetics. My dad preached that for 40 years. You can have a beautiful poinsettia in the greenhouse, but it means nothing if it doesn't hold up in the home."

  • 01 of 23

    Poinsettia Cuttings

    poinsettia cuttings picture
    Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor

    An employee in a greenhouse at the Paul Ecke Ranch clips the colorful tops -- the bracts (which look like petals) and flowers (which look like centers). These cuttings will be shipped by air throughout the world to growers who will produce blooming poinsettias for the holiday season. This photo was taken on Dec. 2, 2008; these cuttings will be for the '09 and '10 seasons.

    Continue to 2 of 23 below.
  • 02 of 23

    The Subject Was Poinsettias

    paul ecke poinsettia ranch
    Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor

    Growers and floriculturists gather in a greenhouse at the Paul Ecke Ranch in Encinitas, California, for a hands-on, up-close-and-personal seminar on poinsettias. The Ecke Ranch is an industry leader in the world of floriculture with new programs and advances in genetic research, hybridizing, propagation, product development, ​and international marketing.

    Continue to 3 of 23 below.
  • 03 of 23

    Greenhouse Fields

    winter rose poinsettias in pink, marble, cream and red
    Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor

    Winter Rose™ poinsettias, in all their colors and splendor. The curly, more compact poinsettias come in colors 'Early Marble', 'Early Pink', 'Early Red', 'Dark Red' and 'White'.

    Continue to 4 of 23 below.
  • 04 of 23

    Long-Stemmed 'Winter Roses'

    poinsettia pictures from paul ecke poinsettia ranch
    Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor

    One of the company's endeavors is to develop more cut-flower poinsettia cultivars. "Most people don't know that the poinsettia started as a cut flower before it was sold as a potted plant," Ecke says. For Winter Rose™, pictured, Ecke says "it took 30 years to come up with the right formula and look. When we showed it to the growers, their reaction was not what everyone here had hoped." Because of the smaller, tighter, rounder, crumpled bracts that aren't exactly replicas of more traditional poinsettias, "Growers thought they looked diseased."

    Not to be discouraged, the Ecke company tried another strategy. "We went to consumers and did a focus group. They loved it!"

    Continue to 5 of 23 below.
  • 05 of 23

    Dulce Rosa™

    dulce rose poinsettia picture
    Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor

    Dulce Rosa™ is a new poinsettia that's incredibly beautiful and prolific. This striking plant with the upright green flowers (the center) and pink bracts (what you might think are flower petals) is not overtly Christmasy looking and will have blooming power well into the spring.

    Continue to 6 of 23 below.
  • 06 of 23

    Real Orange Poinsettias

    orange poinsettias
    Photo by Lisa Hallett Taylor

    Horticulturists at the Paul Ecke Ranch in Encinitas, California, are always looking a couple years ahead, developing new cultivars for future holiday seasons. Among the Ecke Ranch's more unusual and strikingly beautiful are the orange poinsettias, including Freedom Orange and Harvest Orange. Some are being cultivated to last from Halloween through Christmas and possibly beyond.

    Other names for the poinsettia include Noche Buena, the Winter Rose, the Christmas Star, the Flame Leaf and the Stelle di Natalle.

    Continue to 7 of 23 below.
  • 07 of 23

    Hanging Poinsettias

    hanging poinsettias pictures
    Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor

    In this greenhouse, we found some hanging poinsettia plants -- several very long rows of them -- all with masses of deep-red blooms. More unusual varieties and arrangements, like these hanging plants or large tubs of mixed poinsettias, can be found at more high-end or specialty home and garden centers.

    Continue to 8 of 23 below.
  • 08 of 23

    Ice Punch™

    ice punch poinsettia picture
    Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor

    Meet Ice Punch™, a striking award-winning poinsettia that was the 2008 beauty queen of poinsettias. A fabulous example of a poinsettia with a patterned bract, this cultivar features cranberry and frosty white coloring.

    Continue to 9 of 23 below.
  • 09 of 23

    Ice Punch™, Close-Up

    ice punch poinsettia
    Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor

    This close-up view of the award-winning Ice Punch™ poinsettia reveals the tight green and yellow flowers (centers) and stunning cranberry- and white-patterned bracts

    Continue to 10 of 23 below.
  • 10 of 23

    Red & Orange

    red and orange poinsettias picture
    Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor

    In the greenhouses at the Paul Ecke Ranch in Encinitas, California, groupings of poinsettia varieties blend seamlessly from one to another. These orange and red neighbors prove that unconventional combinations can be quite striking.

    Continue to 11 of 23 below.
  • 11 of 23

    Jester Marble

    poinsettia ecke jester
    Photo by Lisa Hallett Taylor

    This magnificent marble is part of the Jester family of upright branching poinsettia cultivars. Jesters have dark green leaves and also come in red and pink.

    Continue to 12 of 23 below.
  • 12 of 23

    'Winter Rose' Poinsettia in Red

    poinsettia photo of winter rose red
    Photo by Lisa Hallett Taylo

    Paul Ecke and ranch visitors talk amongst the greenhouse "fields" of poinsettias. In the foreground is the compact variety, 'Winter Rose,' in red. 'Winter Rose' is often grown with long stems, just like the rose from which it is named.

    Continue to 13 of 23 below.
  • 13 of 23

    Orange Spice Poinsettia

    orange spice poinsettia from paul ecke ranch
    Photo by Lisa Hallett Taylor

    The Paul Ecke Poinsettia Ranch has greenhouses full of poinsettias: it's a poinsettia-lover's version of being inside a candy factory (not necessarily Willy Wonka's, but you get the idea). At the ranch, horticulturists and floriculturists are always working on cultivars -- something new and improved or completely different in shape, size or color.

    'Orange Spice' is a beautiful poinsettia that tweaks the traditional red, and can potentially be enjoyed from late fall (Halloween) throughout the winter.

    Continue to 14 of 23 below.
  • 14 of 23

    Meet the Jesters

    jester poinsettia pictures
    Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor

    The upright, three-point shape of its bracts make Jester™ easy to identify. It's a particular favorite of Paule Ecke III. This early-bloomer comes in 'White', 'Red', 'Marble', 'Jingle' and 'Pink'.

    Continue to 15 of 23 below.
  • 15 of 23

    Sea of Poinsettias

    poinsettia ranch greenhouse picture paul ecke ranch
    Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor

    A look down one of the many rows in one of the many greenhouses at the Paul Ecke Ranch in Encinitas, California, reveals the variety of poinsettia colors available.

    Continue to 16 of 23 below.
  • 16 of 23

    Winter Rose™ Cupcakes

    winter rose marble poinsettias pictures
    Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor

    The compact, incurled bracts of Winter Rose™ give these poinsettias a softer, rounder appearance than their more exotic big sisters. This variety, 'Marble', has the instant appeal and deliciousness of a highly frosted cupcake.

    Continue to 17 of 23 below.
  • 17 of 23

    Strawberries N' Cream™

    strawberries n cream poinsettia picture
    Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor

    The Ecke Ranch's Strawberries N' Cream™ is one of the more unusual or "novelty" poinsettias they grow. It features dark green foliage, and unique cream and dark pink bi-colored bracts that resemble the shape of an oak leaf.

    Continue to 18 of 23 below.
  • 18 of 23

    'Early Joy' Poinsettia

    picture of early joy poinsettia
    Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor

    As the name implies, 'Early Joy' is an early blooming poinsettia that can be enjoyed before and during the holidays. Other cultivars are bred to bloom late in the season, meaning they will last beyond the Christmas holidays.

    Continue to 19 of 23 below.
  • 19 of 23

    Winter Blush™

    winter blush poinsettia picture
    Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor

    The soft and lovely white and pink marbling of the Ecke Ranch's new Winter Blush™ make this poinsettia a standout. Its bracts (the colorful "petals") and strong cyathia clusters (the middle part, which is the actual flower) add to its total impact.

    Continue to 20 of 23 below.
  • 20 of 23

    Polar Bear, Polar Bear

    polar bear poinsettia picture
    Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor

    Buy a pretty new white Polar Bear™ poinsettia and you'll be doing two great things during the holiday season: brightening someone's environment and helping Polar Bears International. For every Polar Bear poinsettia cutting purchased, Ecke will make a donation to Polar Bears International.

    Continue to 21 of 23 below.
  • 21 of 23

    Symphony of Freedom™

    Strong & Proud Freedom™ poinsettias
    Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor

    Freedom™ cultivars are excellent-quality poinsettia plants that can grow at a daily average temperature of 60 F (16 C) or above. Colors include: 'Early Pink', 'Early Marble', 'Early White', and 'Early Red'.

    Continue to 22 of 23 below.
  • 22 of 23

    Peppermint Twist™ & Winter Rose™

    Greenhouse Flower Fields Winter Rose™ and Peppermint Twist™
    Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor

    In the foreground are the pink/coral-colored Peppermint Twist™ poinsettias, with Winter Rose™ varieties in the background, like 'Early Red', 'Early Marble', 'Early Pink', 'Dark Red' and 'White.'

    Continue to 23 of 23 below.
  • 23 of 23

    Variegated Leaves

    variegated poinsettia picture
    Photo © Lisa Hallett Taylor

    Most poinsettia plants have dark green leaves, which contrast with the bright and colorful bracts (what probably look like flower petals). They're attractive -- and any poinsettia without lots of green leaves underneath its bracts is a sign of an unhealthy plant.

    This particular cultivar from the Paul Ecke Ranch combines the alluring red bracts with a variegated chartreuse and dark green leaf. The result: a new frontier in poinsettia production. Plants with attractive foliage patterns and colors have been popular with gardeners and plant lovers in recent years, and this as-yet-unnamed Ecke poinsettia taps into that market.