Polka-dotted poinsettias? Tiger-striped, creamy white with blue and red spots, blue and green stripes with gold glitter, or black tiger paws on gold leaves? Is this some wild experiment at the University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources?
No, these unique holiday plants are the creations of CAFNR plant science students working in the College’s in-house floral shop called Tiger Garden. The poinsettias are individual works of art created to make a special season even more festive.
“This is the second season for the plants called Dazzling Poinsettias,” said Kim Cottrell, a junior in plant science and student manager of Tiger Garden. “Last year several hundred were sold. This year is proving more successful as word is getting out about them.”
Dazzling Poinsettias start life as typical red, white or pink plants grown by students in MU greenhouses. As the holiday season approaches, students exercise their artistic skills by applying alcohol-based dyes to the leaves, creating the design or theme of their choice.
Customer reaction is initially awe or disbelief, Cottrell said. Typically, people carefully feel the leaves to make sure that these are really living plants.
Considering that it takes a student 10 to 20 minutes to decorate each plant, Dazzling Poinsettias are a bargain. Average-sized plants cost only a few dollars more than the undecorated plant sold in the shop.
As each plant is uniquely created, shop patrons can request custom orders in a particular color combination. Last year a visiting Kansas State University professor saw and bought a purple plant. This year he ordered duplicates for his office and friends.
Decorating the plants make for a great educational experience for the students, said Mary Ann Gowdy, Ph.D., teaching assistant professor in plant sciences and Tiger Garden project leader.
“Today’s students are very different than students 20 years ago,” she said. “They want lots of hands-on learning, they want collaborative relationships with faculty mentors and they want to use the skills and knowledge they’ve gained in the classroom to make decisions immediately.”
“Because of the collaborative partnership between Plant Sciences and University Bookstore, Tiger Garden provides students entrepreneurial learning experiences in a small business setting,” she continued. “Some students have spent the past 14 weeks in the greenhouses growing the poinsettias, some have developed the marketing plan, some purchased the materials and supplies, and others are currently interacting with Tiger Garden customers. Just like the Dazzling Poinsettias, every Tiger Garden student gains an unique experience.”