Christmas flowers ready for the holiday season

Horticulture students help ready poinsettias for the department’s popular sale next week. A variety of plants will be available with prices starting at $15.

The annual poinsettia sale is returning to Orange Coast College’s Horticulture building for the holidays.  

Pickup for the pre-order sale starts Dec. 5 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the official sale taking place on Dec. 6 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the OCC greenhouse and surrounding area.

A longstanding tradition in the Horticulture department, the fundraiser goes toward scholarship funds for horticulture students. The remaining funds go directly toward materials to prepare for the following year’s poinsettia sale.

“The sale keeps the process going,” said Rick Harlow, a horticulture instructor for the program which oversees and maintains the crops.  

In the Greenhouse and Nursery Science class taught by Harlow, students plant poinsettia cuttings on the first day of class allowing the plants to reach maturity over the 16-week semester.

The students tend the crop from beginning to end, measuring and documenting the growth weekly on a computer program. They also monitor the lighting and cut the tops of the plants to prevent them from growing together in a process called cleaning the head.

Harlow explained that the science of the class comes from monitoring the cooling and heating systems and nursery stock production which provides real world scenarios for students.

The fundraiser was started 42 years ago by longtime OCC instructor John Lenanton who wrote his thesis paper on poinsettias which gave him extensive knowledge on the plant. Its growth time of about 16 weeks allowed them to be cultivated and sold within a single semester.  

As his student, Harlow said he learned the ideal way to grow poinsettias to be florist grade as opposed to the poinsettias one could pick up at Home Depot.  

However, the price of OCC’s poinsettias is a fraction of the price one would pay at a florist shop.

For $15, anyone can buy a beautiful and bright poinsettia plant at OCC whereas many florist shops can exceed $70 for a single plant. Harlow said the noticeable bargain and difference in quality has led to customers returning every holiday season for decades.

Increasing public involvement with repeat customers has prompted a poinsettia cam to be put up on OCC’s website.

“People like to see the production, changing from a green plant to red,” Harlow said.  

The cam is a livestream documenting the plant’s metamorphosis, sometimes accompanied by time lapses summarizing the entire process at the end of the year.

The funds from the poinsettia sale are crucial to supporting not only the Greenhouse and Nursery Science program, but also the spring semester Plant Propagation course, which grows both ornamental and edible plants.  

These programs specifically are a point of pride to Harlow, as the funds that sustain these programs help students learn hands-on skills essential to horticulture, as opposed to learning everything from lectures and PowerPoints.

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