As Sonny Lubick’s Rams prepare to play in another bowl game, Paul Ecke III, a Colorado State horticulture alumnus who lives near San Diego, is tackling the super bowl of his own – poinsettia season.
It’s no coincidence that Ecke’s poinsettias are tied to the bowl game; the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, played on Dec. 22 when the Rams take on the U. S. Navy Academy Midshipmen, is named for the poinsettias grown at the nearby Paul Ecke Ranch – the nation’s biggest poinsettia producer.
"I am thrilled that Colorado State is in the inaugural San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl," said Ecke. "I was very pleased that the newest bowl game was going to be named the Poinsettia Bowl, but having Colorado State play in it has really made it very special. We are busily planning on all sorts of fun things, like painting poinsettias green and gold, and making a special poinsettia blanket for Cam the Ram."
Acres upon acres of poinsettias decorate the Paul Ecke Ranch, a worldwide poinsettia wholesaler run by Ecke, who also provides poinsettias for the bowl game. His sister, fellow Colorado State University alumna Lizbeth Ecke, is on the board of directors of the ranch. Nearly 70 percent of all the flowering poinsettias in the United States and more than 50 percent worldwide get their start at the Paul Ecke Ranch in Encinitas near San Diego. The Ecke family has also developed more than 60 varieties that are on the poinsettia market – of about 100 varieties available to consumers.
Poinsettias are a $500 million industry in North America.
The Ecke Ranch spans 23 acres of greenhouses in Encinitas and 60 acres in Guatemala and ships millions of poinsettia cuttings to growers in more than 50 countries. The Eckes also produces thousands of potted poinsettias for Christmas – more than 300,000 this year — that are sold to wholesale and retail florist outlets across the West for the holiday season.
In fact, the poinsettia is widely identified with San Diego County because of the Ecke Ranch, and the tradition of the poinsettia as a holiday flower in the United States was almost single-handedly created by the Ecke family. Martha Stewart Living magazine recently featured the family’s flowers.
The Ecke family also has a strong Colorado State University tradition.
"Attending Colorado State University gave me a great background in floriculture," said Ecke. "Professors like Ken Goldsberry, who was my advisor and still lives in Fort Collins; David Hartley, who came to work here at Ecke Ranch for 20 years and just recently went back to teaching at Colorado State; and Joe Hannon were tough but great educators. I grew my first poinsettia crop at the Holley Research Center on the university’s campus, and look where that got me."
The Paul Ecke Ranch is an international poinsettia family wholesale business with more than 90 years of history. The business was founded around 1911 by Paul Ecke Sr’s father, Albert, who quickly became interested in poinsettias – an interest he shared with Paul Sr.
Poinsettias were introduced into the Southern California area in the late 1800s and grew wild on the hillside. The plant’s cycle of blooming around the holidays gave the Eckes the idea that they’d make a perfect holiday flower. Paul Sr. traveled the country with a poinsettia in his suitcase, promoting the plant to greenhouse growers as a holiday flower while growing acres of poinsettias at home, including along Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. Soon, his son, Paul Jr. was also involved in promoting poinsettias for the holidays. He worked to make certain it was part of the holiday, including placing the flowers on the television screen for holiday episodes of "The Tonight Show" and Bob Hope Christmas specials and in countless women’s magazines. The Ecke family’s efforts paid off; poinsettias today are synonymous with Christmas and are the top selling potted flowering plant in America.
The Ecke family works tirelessly to develop new varieties of poinsettias, a process that can take about 10 years from the first efforts to cross plants until they are available to market. The Ecke family’s top-selling variety is called Prestige, but they’ve also created varieties such as Winter Rose, Freedom and Snowcap White. Prestige accounts for 47 percent of all red poinsettias sold and 36 percent of all poinsettia sales.
Paul Ecke III received his bachelor’s degree in horticulture from Colorado State University in 1980, and an MBA from Duke University, and is now the owner and CEO of the family-owned Paul Ecke Ranch. Lizbeth Ecke received her degree from Colorado State in 1982, with a bachelor’s in business and a minor in horticulture. Liz has been involved in corporate management of the family’s real estate business since 1987, and Paul is a director of the business, called Carltas Development Co.
Ecke Ranch also develops and markets a line of spring plants under The Flower Fields brand. The Flower Fields is a partnership between Ecke Ranch and Yoder Brothers in Barberton, Ohio, and flowers from the joint venture are marketed in the United States and Canada.
In addition to the Ecke siblings, several other Colorado State alumni work at Ecke Ranch, including Jack Williams, a 1979 horticulture graduate.
According to legend, a bouquet of poinsettias, which are native to Mexico, was given as a present at the nativity scene during services at Christmas Eve by Pepita, a poor Mexican girl. As she laid the bouquet at the foot of the nativity scene, it bloomed into a brilliant red. From that day on, the red flowers were known as the Flores de Noche Buena, or Flowers of the Holy Night, because they bloomed each year during the Christmas season.
More information about the event and tickets to the game are available through the Colorado State University website at www.colostate.edu. A dollar of the proceeds of each ticket sale will be donated to the Make a Wish Foundation. The game will be televised on ESPN2 at 8:30 p.m. mountain time.