Paul Ecke Sr.: 'Poinsettia King' Cultivated A Holiday Tradition

Monday, December 3rd, 2018

Matt Krantz

Poinsettia flowers are almost universally known as a holiday flower, but where did they come from? And what makes them so popular during this time of year? Learn about how the poinsettia became a staple in American holiday household traditions in the excerpt below from Investor's Business Daily.

The poinsettia plant, to botanists, is known as Euphorbia pulcherrima. But to everyone else, the flower that curiously blooms in the winter is synonymous with the holidays — and that's largely due to a Southern California farmer: Paul Ecke Sr.

"The poinsettia became the Christmas flower, and my grandfather has always been identified as the guy who made it so," Paul Ecke III, Paul Sr.'s grandson and CEO of Paul Ecke Ranch for 20 years, told Investor's Business Daily. "He decided to make the poinsettia the Christmas flower."

Poinsettias literally grew under other people's noses. But not until Ecke (1895-1991) did the seasonal plant turn into an enduring tradition and a huge market. Under his leadership, Ecke established a poinsettia farming empire in Southern California which, at one point, controlled 90% of the market. Poinsettias went from near obscurity to a $140 million annual market in the U.S., based on a 2015 analysis by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the latest available. That makes poinsettias the second-largest potted flowering plant market, behind orchids at $288 million.

Hard work blended with innovation and savvy marketing turned the flower into a durable agricultural empire that remained in the family's hands from the early 1900s until it was sold in 2012. "Paul Sr. has about everything to do with our tradition of poinsettias for Christmas," Frances Le Duc, a member of the Agriculture Department at Texas State University told IBD.

Holiday traditions typically take centuries to ingrain into lore. But with Ecke's vision, the poinsettia rose to holiday ubiquity in a relative wink of Santa's eye — offering business lessons to anyone looking to build a product's popularity from scratch.