J. Scott Angle: The largest student-run poinsettia sale in the nation is a true land-grant trifecta

December 2, 2021

For most, it starts with a love of plants. That’s what the University of Florida Environmental Horticulture Club continues to cultivate in its members, whether they’re agriculture majors or not. 

The club gives members hands-on experience in turning that passion into profit. There’s no better example of this than the annual Poinsettia Sale, Dec. 9-11, which in its 25th year has transcended niche plant event and become a rite of the holiday season in Gainesville.

To me the success of the sale is not measured in the tens of thousands of dollars in revenue in three days in December. It’s how over the course of four months the students learn to serve an industry and benefit from the mentorship and insights they gain from FNGLA professionals.

Erin Alvarez (a past club president) worked the sale as a student years ago, and she’s been part of the industry ever since. In fact, she’s now a lecturer in the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Department of Environmental Horticulture, and a faculty co-advisor for the club. Other club alumni include Jennifer Parrish of Farm Credit, Libbie Clark of Agri-Starts, and Austin Bryant of Heart of Florida Greenhouses.

The interface with industry starts from the very beginning, with donated cuttings. Students repay the donors with painstaking data collection on plant growth and other metrics to measure how poinsettias respond to temperature and plant growth regulators. Their research contributes to decisions on which candidate cultivars eventually become home garden center mainstays.

The students also get experience presenting their work. Current club President Samantha Osley, a plant science major on track to graduate in the spring and who has been involved since her freshman year, recently presented the club’s work to an audience at Rockledge Gardens in Brevard County. She aspires to a career in a botanical garden or arboretum.

Each year the club and Dr. Tom Yeager host the FNGLA Frontrunners Chapter for a tour of the greenhouse and a dinner. It gives students experience showing their work to a most discerning audience, and the opportunity to forge connections with industry leaders as they break bread together.

Club Vice President Michael Hutchinson is also an active leader in this year’s poinsettia sale. He’s a landscape architect major in the UF College of Design, Construction and Planning. He hopes to put his experience to use in a career where he can help bridge the gap between what landscape architects desire to incorporate into their designs and what is actually available from suppliers.

The largest student-run poinsettia sale in the nation is a true land-grant trifecta. It educates the next generation of professionals. It engages those students in outreach modeled on Extension.

And it continues a tradition of research that trials cultivars for the industry. The companies that supply the cuttings get no-cost data on how their plants respond to growth regulators, pruning and different combinations of light and shade.

It thrusts our students into a high-stakes operation where timing is everything. One of the first lessons we emphasize is that you’re not going to sell a lot of poinsettias on December 26.

It’s a four-month sprint of a business that culminates in a blaze of Premium Picassos, Candy Canes, Marble Stars and more. The students will run the registers and convert a lot of their earnings to euros as they travel through Italy to gain an international perspective on environmental horticulture.

The students aren’t the only winners. FNGLA is, too. The sale raises the profile of Florida’s green industry. So please help them help you by making a purchase, becoming a cuttings supplier, mentoring a student or spreading the word about the sale.

They’re helping you right now as researchers and outreach workers. I suspect several of them will be helping you in years to come as employees.

Scott Angle is the University of Florida’s Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources and leader of the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).



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