OVERTON — When most Texans think of East Texas, they visualize pine tree forests and picturesque cow/calf farms. But it’s not stretching things too far to call Cherokee County the Silicon Valley of poinsettias, says a horticulturist with the Texas Agricultural Extension Service.
“Our growers have already started shipping nearly 1 million poinsettias this year, for a wholesale value of roughly $3 million. That’s about a third of the entire poinsettia production of Texas,” said Ted Fisher, extension horticulturist based in Cherokee County.
Poinsettias account for a bigger share of Cherokee County’s horticultural production than any other single plant. The county is home to 60 greenhouse farms with a total of nearly 6 million square feet of growing space under glass. Cherokee bedding plant wholesale receipts are expected to be about $77 million this year, a number which does not include the other vegetable and melon crops grown in the county.
This time of year, all the growers have mainly poinsettias on their minds as they prepare to ship in time for the holidays.
Native to Mexico, poinsettias were first introduced into the United States in 1825 by Joel Robert Poinsett. While serving as the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Poinsett visited Taxco and found the plants growing on adjacent hillsides. Poinsett sent a few plants to his home in Greenville, S.C.
In the last 30 years, poinsettias have edged out chrysanthemums to become the top selling flowering potted plant in the United States, Fisher said.
Being the No. 1 potted plant is more impressive when you consider that poinsettias are grown only for the holiday season while other potted plants are typically grown year round, he said.
Growers in the United States annually send almost 62 million poinsettias to market during the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. More than 90 growers in Texas typically produce about 3.3 million poinsettias each year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The Cherokee County bedding plant industry dates back to the Great Depression of the 1930s when growers began shipping bareroot tomato seedlings across the nation. In 1958, Billy Powell started Powell Plant Farms and built the area’s first commercial greenhouse on a $500 budget from unseasoned lumber and polyethylene plastic. As Powell Plant Farms prospered, other growers followed suit. Today Powell Plant Farms is the 4th largest plant farm in the United States. Powell Plant Farms will ship the majority of the county’s poinsettias, Fisher said.