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As prices grow, supply wilts

Energy prices drove up cost of producing poinsettias

CHESHIRE, Conn. – Just about everything is on sale for Christmas this year – except poinsettias.

Record energy prices last summer drove up the cost of heating greenhouses and fueling delivery trucks, forcing distributors to pass along higher costs to retailers. Many growers planted fewer cuttings, and some took a rare hiatus from producing the iconic holiday plants.

Florists say the wholesale cost of poinsettias has risen 10 percent to 15 percent, though they’re trying to absorb as much of the hit as they can at a time when consumers are feeling the brunt of a recession that appears to be gathering strength.

Lynne Moss, owner of The Flower Shoppe in the 6,500-person town of Pratt, Kan., said her usual poinsettia distributor had none to offer this year, requiring a special order. The result: Poinsettias that once cost $30-a-pot in her shop are now about $35, depending on their size.

At a cost of anywhere from $15 to $40 a pot, Americans spend more than $1 billion a year on the flowering plant, which was introduced into America in 1825 by Joel Poinsett, who served as a minister to the U.S. in Mexico, where the plant is indigenous.

About 47.5 million poinsettias were produced for Christmas 2007, according to the American Society of Florists, which could not provide an estimate for this year’s crop.

Most U.S. growers plant their poinsettias from June to September. This year, that coincided with soaring energy prices, influencing many growers in cold-weather regions to cut back or eliminate their crops, which require several months to develop in greenhouses maintained at 65 to 70 degrees.

Poinsettias are extra energy intensive because they are spaced out in greenhouses to encourage them to grow thick and wide, not tall and skinny. The plants also require more space in delivery trucks than, say, wreaths and holly plants, which can be bunched together.

Prices for poinsettias will vary by variety, size, where they were grown and how much of the higher costs retailers will absorb.