Kay Yow, the beloved women’s basketball coach who died in 2009, forever linked NC State with breast cancer awareness through her annual Hoops for Hope game. This fall, the university has unveiled a new symbol of the fight against breast cancer: pink poinsettias.
The floriculture program is the first to test pink poinsettia varieties that the industry would like to market for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The varieties were developed by crossing traditional Christmas red poinsettias and a white flower that is a close relative.
Near campus, rows of pink poinsettias are on display in a greenhouse where Dr. John Dole, horticulture professor, and horticulture technician Ingram McCall have tried different strategies for getting the pink poinsettias ready for an October release. Similar new varieties were previously tried for Christmas, but plant breeders found that the pink flowers did not sell well for that holiday.
Dole said there are difficulties with getting poinsettias into full color before winter. The pink hybrid poinsettias must have limited exposure to daylight to turn bright pink. Beginning in mid-August, the plants in the greenhouse are “black clothed” to block light for 15 hours each day, giving them nine hours of light. However, using the technique in the heat of summer can prevent the poinsettias from forming flowers.
Dole and McCall have found that the optimal time period for restricting daylight seems to be six weeks. Of three varieties tested, one with darker center petals and lighter petals on the outside has performed especially well.
Poinsettias can last several months as houseplants with proper sunlight and water, so a poinsettia purchased in October could last through Christmas.
The pink poinsettia varieties Dole has tested are not yet available to the public, though they are available to North Carolina growers. Since the varieties have not been named, Dole says he’ll suggest that one be called the Kay Yow Poinsettia in honor of the coach who lost her own fight against breast cancer.