The story of the modern day poinsettia in America is really the story of the Ecke family of Encinitas. Originally from Germany, Albert Ecke emigrated to the U.S, in 1906 and settled in the Hollywood area. The family lived off the land growing fruits and vegetables but were also, by 1909, selling cut Poinsettias at a stand on Sunset Blvd. Poinsettias grew wild in the area and son Paul Ecke (Paul Sr.) had the idea that the ruby flowers would sell well around Christmas. This turned out to be so successful that in 1915 Albert Ecke bought five acres in nearby El Monte to grow poinsettias. By 1917 the Eckes were shipping plants to customers in New York and Chicago. When Albert died in 1919, Paul Sr. took over the flower business and though the family prospered, by 1923 the pressures of a rapidly urbanizing Hollywood led Paul Sr. to move the operation to 40 acres in Encinitas. Their first year in Encinitas was a disaster. Santa Ana winds destroyed most of the crop.
In 1955 Paul Ecke Jr. returned with a degree in floriculture from Ohio State with ideas of his own about how to move forward with the family business. It took some doing but eventually he was able to convince Paul Sr. to move the growing out of the fields and into greenhouses. Paul Jr. also took a very active role in marketing poinsettias making them available to The Tonight Show, the Dinah Shore show and Bob Hope's Christmas Specials. He also got them into woman's magazines like The Ladies Home Journal and Better Homes & Gardens. By the time of his death in 2002 poinsettias were the number one selling potted plant in America, no doubt due in large part to his tireless promotional efforts.
Paul Ecke lll took over the business in 1991. It so happened that 1991 was also the year that a university graduate student published an article that described a method for causing poinsettias to branch. Up until that time the Ecke's secret technique had guaranteed them the lion's share of the poinsettia market. With the secret now out and available to everyone, European cultivators began setting up greenhouses offshore and drastically undercutting prices. This led Paul lll to expand operations in 1997 to Guatemala where today most of the cuttings are grown. The Encinitas ranch is now mostly used for research breeding. The Ecke ranch maintains it's competitive advantage by developing new poinsettias. They now offer more than 60 varieties.
Update: In April of 2012, the Eike Ranch property was sold to the Leichtag Foundation. In August of 2012, the Eike Ranch, the poinsettia operation, was sold to the Dutch-based Agribio Group. Here, Paul Eike talks about "The hardest decision I every made".