FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4) – Poinsettias are a sure sign the holidays are here and some students at Colorado State University are helping ensure customers get the best variety.

Horticulture students at CSU are nurturing a colorful holiday tradition in a campus greenhouse full of poinsettias which were just small green shoots back in summer. They’ve grown 50 varieties of poinsettia — nearly 2,000 plants — doing research for three companies which are part of a $260 million U.S. poinsettia industry.

“Are they better growth and habit? Are they taller? Are they wider spread?” horticulture student Royce Lahman said.

Perhaps most important — which variety has the most holiday cheer-inspiring version of red or white in what’s called the bract of the plant.

“I would personally say that the biggest challenge in growing poinsettias is getting them to change color, because poinsettias don’t naturally change color at this time of year in our setting,” horticulture student Heather Hammack said.

The students pull black curtains across the greenhouse to block out nighttime light pollution and ensure that the poinsettias get the 12 hours of darkness they need to change colors, otherwise they just stay green.

“Once we pull the curtains, within a couple of days you start to see that change and they’ll start to mature. It takes about a week to a month to actually start changing colors,” Lahman said.

The final research test for the plants is a poinsettia sale to see which varieties sell the best and to make sure their work ends up with a good holiday home.

“It must be like growing Christmas trees. It’s something that everybody holds dear. It’s something that people use to signal to themselves, to their families, that it’s the holiday season and we can be a part of that and we can bring that joy to people, which is really great,” Hammack said.

Buy one of the beautiful plants at the university’s 18th annual poinsettia sale Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. at the Holley Center Greenhouse located at 630 West Lake Street in Fort Collins.

Plants cost $8 each.


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