Joel Roberts Poinsett probably would be wilting if knew this: South Carolina, where Poinsett was born in 1779, saw the number of grower-sold poinsettias — the variety of flowering plant that now bears his name — plummet 80 percent from 2010 to 2014.

Among the 15 top-producing states, South Carolina experienced the biggest slide in the output of the traditionally red Christmas plant from 2010 to 2014, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). During the same period, South Carolina witnessed the biggest fall — 49 percent — among the top 15 states in terms of the annual wholesale value of the poinsettia crop. That compares with an overall 3.7 percent dip in value for the top 15.

(See state-by-state data in table below.)

Joel Roberts Poinsett

Joel Roberts Poinsett introduced the poinsettia to the U.S.

Industry experts suggest that the fall-off in poinsettia production in South Carolina and elsewhere can be tied to small growers moving away from the plant in favor of more profitable and less risky crops. Furthermore, they say, industry consolidation — driven in large part by big-box retailers — has squeezed out many small producers. In South Carolina, the number of poinsettia growers with annual sales over $100,000 dropped from 15 in 2010 to seven in 2014, according to the USDA.

Donna Foster, executive director of the South Carolina Nursery and Landscape Association, says some greenhouse owners in her state have given up producing poinsettias “because it was too hard to compete.”

Poinsett introduced the poinsettia plant to the U.S. in 1828 after discovering it in Mexico, where he was our southern neighbor’s first U.S. ambassador. The botanist, physician and former congressman took cuttings from the plant, which he’d found along a road in Mexico, and brought them back to South Carolina. To mark the date of Poinsett’s death in 1851, every Dec. 12 is observed as National Poinsettia Day in the U.S.

Consumers Pour Water on Poinsettias

poinsettia greenhouse

California leads the U.S. in poinsettia production.

Aside from Poinsett’s native South Carolina, states with double-digit declines for poinsettia production from 2010 to 2014 are California, Hawaii, New York, Ohio, Oregon and Texas, according to the USDA. California, which leads the U.S. in poinsettia production, saw the number of grower-sold poinsettias slip 11 percent during that period.

Nora Catlin, a floriculture specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, NY, cites a decrease in consumers’ purchases of plants as one of the reasons for the poinsettia’s plight in New York and elsewhere. A survey by the Society of American Florists found that at 80 percent of floral businesses, poinsettia sales either were down or about the same in 2014 compared with 2013.

In New York, where wholesale production of poinsettias dropped more than 18 percent from 2010 to 2014, Catlin notes that the state’s number of poinsettia operations with annual sales exceeding $100,000 declined from 68 in 2010 to 51 in 2014. As the costs of poinsettia production have risen over the past 10 to 15 years and profit margins have become slimmer, some growers have turned to other crops, Catlin says.

“I think to some degree there has been an unfortunate acceptance that the poinsettia might not ever gain back its sales and price numbers, though we all hope it does,” Catlin says. “There are so many gorgeous poinsettias available.”

Poinsettia Production Tapers Off

StateWholesale Plants Sold 2010Wholesale Plants Sold 2014Increase/Decrease
California75190006693000-0.10985503391408
Florida33300003277000-0.015915915915916
Hawaii293000203000-0.30716723549488
Illinois18370001689000-0.08056614044638
Maryland585000569000-0.027350427350427
Michigan238200025470000.069269521410579
New Jersey150100017660000.1765489673551
New York31560002565000-0.18726235741445
N. Carolina415800046210000.11135161135161
Ohio35800002382000-0.33463687150838
Oregon702000549000-0.21794871794872
Pennsylvania210900025490000.20862968231389
S. Carolina569000114000-0.79964850615114
Texas35120002643000-0.24743735763098
Washington90000010120000.12444444444444
15-State Total3613300033179000-0.081753521711455
Source: USDA
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