Introducing the Poinsettia Garden at Leichtag Commons

by Dempsey Sawyer, Director of Engineering

The poinsettia has become the iconic Christmas flower over the years. The Ecke Family, the previous owners of Leichtag Commons, developed the cultivation of this plant into a global business. A large part of the world recognizes the significance of this beautiful, quiet, and stunning leafy plant that shows up in the holiday seasons with striking colors.

Poinsettias were originally grown outdoors in the warm sub-tropical climate of Mexico. Aztecs called the plant cuetlaxochitl (brilliant flower) and used it for medicinal and decorative purposes for centuries. The plant’s scientific name is Euphorbia pulcherrima Willd. Ex Klotzsch. The English name comes from the US Ambassador to Mexico, Joel Poinsett, who introduced them from Mexico into the United States in the 1800s.

Paul Ecke Sr. moved to Encinitas in 1923 from Hollywood, California to find more land for their growing poinsettia business.  In those days, most poinsettias were grown outside for cut flowers.  Over time, their home Ranch in Encinitas encompassed over 800 acres.  In the 1960s, there was a shift to greenhouse production, and this led to the building of 40 acres of greenhouses here and helped to make Encinitas the “Flower Capital of the World”.  At one time, there were over 400 people working here in poinsettia production.  The Ecke Ranch also created a breeding program for poinsettias that continues to this day on this property.  At one time, the Ecke Ranch sold 90% of all poinsettia plants each year worldwide.  In the 1990s, the Ecke Ranch moved poinsettia production to Guatemala, while continuing to do poinsettia Breeding and administration here in Encinitas.

In 2012, the Leichtag Foundation purchased this 67.5 acre Ecke Ranch property and the Ecke poinsettia production business was sold to a Dutch company called Dümmen Orange. Dümmen Orange continues poinsettia research and development as a tenant of Leichtag Commons. Many of the original Ecke employees are still here today, developing an even wider variety of poinsettia plants.

The Foundation asked some of the scientists at the Commons to assemble poinsettia varieties representing some of the original plants. This was done as an experiment to conserve a legacy of the original poinsettia flowers. Scientists Ruth Kobayashi and Catherine Ku of Dümmen Orange set out to grow a crop of those original species (Euphorbia pulcherrima) in one of their greenhouses, just as it was done in 1965. These legacy plants consist of 13 cultivars that would represent the group. The plants were transferred out of the greenhouse and into raised beds with a special soil mixture in the new outdoor Poinsettia Garden. These 13 cultivars are now in the status of growing to mature plants. Also included in this location is “Luv U Pink,” a hybrid of Euphorbia pulcherrima crossed with Euphorbia canasta developed by the Paul Ecke Ranch, and the result of innovation in poinsettia breeding at the time it was developed in 2008. This will be the first season in which these plants will show their colors and should exhibit a point of interest to visiting folks at the Commons. Our next Commons tours will feature a stop through the Garden, and if you’re visiting the property make sure to ask to walk through it.

The following list represents the 12 varieties of those original plants plus one, “Luv U Pink,” which was developed in 2008:

1. St. Louis Pink

2. St. Louis Red

3. Early White

4. Ecke Pink

5. Ecke White

6. Ecke Marble

7. Ecke’s Flaming Sphere

8. Indianapolis

9. New Ecke White

10. Oak Leaf

11. Henrietta Ecke Supreme

12. C-1

13. Luv U Pink*

See more photos of the garden below: