Of hundreds of articles I’ve written for the San Diego Union-Tribune, this one is my all-time favorite. Above: A wild poinsettia. (Photo by Bruce Leander, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.)
It was a Quasimodo of a plant.
Even so, Franz Fruehwirth was intrigued by the gangly poinsettia he saw growing in a sunny corner of the Paul Ecke Ranch in Encinitas, CA. The year was 1962 and, for 40 years, the Ecke family had dominated the poinsettia market nationwide. True, customers preferred traditional-looking plants, but that didn’t mean tastes wouldn’t change, given an appealing alternative.
The oddity had a grand name, Ecke’s Flaming Sphere, but its ball-like red topknot and tightly curled leaves suggested not a comet so much as a tarantula. It had been discovered in the mid-’50s, as a mutant shoot of a normal pointy-leaved plant.
Maybe, Fruehwirth mused as he went about his routine work of mating poinsettias, Flaming Sphere could light the flower market on fire. Continue Reading →