Mountain Valley poinsettias are a tradition in green and red |

Mountain Valley poinsettias are a tradition in green and red

John Colson
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
Kelley Cox Post IndependentJenna Seets likes to wear her Christmas elf hat while tending poinsettias in the greenhouses at Mountain Valley Developmental Services in Glenwood Springs. She works alongside Amanda Radel, center, and Tracy Millard, far left.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – For many, the poinsettia is the quintessential harbinger of Christmas, setting the stage for other holiday symbols such as Santa Claus, mistletoe and the decorated fir tree.

To meet the demands of poinsettia lovers, the clients and staff at Mountain Valley Developmental Services (MVDS) grow up to 400 of the plants for sale during the holiday season. It’s a tradition that’s been going on for roughly two decades.

Mountain Valley operates in Garfield, Eagle, Pitkin and Lake counties providing work, therapy and other services to children and adults in the region with developmental disabilities.

Poinsettias start out as “plugs” or small seedlings, purchased from growers in California.

Mountain Valley horticulturalists plant the plugs in late June, and the luscious poinsettias mature to full blossom by November. The plants fill much of the space in Mountain Valley’s south Glenwood greenhouses, carefully tended by Mountain Valley clients.

The program is a combination of therapy and training, said Adam Juul, Mountain Valley greenhouse manager. He said clients are assigned duties and largely left on their own to get the jobs done, instilling a work ethic and sense of discipline.

Mountain Valley clients also work at Mountain Valley Textiles and Gifts, the downtown Glenwood Springs weaving store that is another vocational program.

Mountain Valley’s poinsettia program is a break-even program, Juul said. It costs $400 to $600 to buy the seedlings from Ecke Ranch, a family of growers in California. Poinsettias occupy the greenhouse until the end of the year. Then the emphasis shifts to herb and vegetable seedlings, which are sold to local gardeners in the spring.

But for now, the poinsettia is king.

Standing in the middle of the greenhouse are two 3-year-old poinsettia trees, seven feet tall or so. One was grown from a cutting, and the other from seed. As trees, they’ve become long-term residents in the greenhouse, taking the shape typical of the plants in their native habitat of Mexico.

There, the plant is named the Flower of the Holy Night (la Flora de Noche Buena), in recognition of a Christian legend about the plant’s role in a Christmas miracle.

The plant took on the poinsettia name when it was introduced in the U.S. in 1825 by Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico.

The Mountain Valley poinsettia sale offers a range of sizes for decorative needs, ranging from small plants for desktops to large plants.

The only downside to the project is knowing that most of the poinsettias don’t survive past the holidays, since few people tend their poinsettias once they drop their brilliant red, white or yellow leaves.

“We love ’em, but it’s a throwaway plant,” joked Casey DeFrates, Juul’s greenhouse assistant.

DeFrates said much of the popularity of poinsettias in the U.S. is due to its exposure on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in the 1950s and 1960s.

It seems Carson was friendly with the Ecke family, and would festoon the television studio with poinsettias in December.

“So Johnny Carson started this whole, crazy poinsettia thing,” DeFrates said with a grin.

Plants are available at the Mountain Valley greenhouse, 700 Mount Sopris Drive in south Glenwood Springs from 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays. The greenhouse will also be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 17. Prices range from $3.50 to $8.

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