Poinsettias and Christmas trees are beloved seasonal decor

By on December 19, 2018

It’s that time of year when all local farm stores look like Santa’s village with piles of Christmas trees and acres of red, pink and white poinsettias plants–symbols of the season in the United States.

Christmas Trees
Christmas trees are a Lutheran tradition and date back to the 1600s, and the first holiday trees made their appearance in Lancaster County in the 1820s. Nationwide, some 27 million live trees are sold annually in the second decade of the 21st century &tstr; about six million more than artificial tree sales. Be sure you know the difference between a fresh cut tree and a pre-cut tree. Pre-cut trees may have been cut weeks and weeks ago and are shipped from the West, mid-west and south to big box stores. Fresh cut trees may be cut within days of when you purchase it at a local farm store. The difference is obvious. It takes eight to 10 years to grow Christmas trees, and the industry is cyclical and still recovering from the recession when many Christmas tree farmers closed. For the past few years, there has not been as much selection of live trees and the prices have been a little higher.

Vince Fry of Frysville Farms, Ephrata, who has worked and managed the family operation for decades says, “This business has always been cyclical. If prices are high this year, there will be more farmers planting trees in the next couple of years and we’ll end up with a glut again down the road.”

Oregon, North Carolina, and Michigan are the states that supply the country with the most Christmas trees. In Pennsylvania, there are some 1,400 growers utilizing more than 30,000 acres. Fry is one of hundreds of Lancaster County farms and farm stores selling live trees and he stocks more than 3,000 each year.

Riding back from the fields after cutting down Christmas trees at Elizabeth Farms north of Brickerville. Friday, November 23, 2018

Poinsettias

The poinsettia has a long and interesting history. The plants are native to Central America and also flourished in southern Mexico. The Aztecs used the plant for decorative purposes, but also extracted a purple dye for use in textiles and cosmetics. They used the milky white sap in a preparation to treat fevers.

The poinsettia plant was discovered by Joel Roberts Poinsett, the son of a French physician and the first United States Ambassador to Mexico in the 1800s. Poinsett had attended medical school and his real love was botany. He later founded what we know today as the Smithsonian Institution. Poinsett maintained his own hothouses on his Greenville, S.C., plantation and sent some of the plants home and shared them with friends including John Bartram of Philadelphia. Bartram, in turn gave the plant to Robert Buist, a Pennsylvania nurseryman who is thought to be the first person to have sold the plant. It became known by its more popular name of “poinsettia:” around 1836, recognizing the man who first brought the plant to the United States.

More than 30 million poinsettias are sold each year, some 23 percent of all potted plants purchased with California, Florida, and Hawaii being the largest producers.
Around 80,000 poinsettia plants can be found at Frysville Farm during the holiday season.

Vince Fry, who has run the Frysville Farm (Ephrata) family business for more than 30 years, gets some of his 80,000 poinsettias ready for sale. Frysville Farm has near 50 varieties of poinsettias on display and for sale.

“We stock some 50 varieties of the plant in a variety of colors,” Fry says. “We are a sea of red from November through Christmas.”

Art Petrosemolo is a freelance feature writer and photographer who recently retired to this area from New Jersey. He welcomes reader feedback at artpetrosemolo@comcast.net. 

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