Red Christmas

Thousands of poinsettia plants in the hothouses of Ravensworth Nursery, Richmond, North Yorkshire, being checked by Chris Snell, a government plant health and seeds Inspector before they are dispatched to shops ahead of Christmas.

Supermarkets, department stores and garage forecourts are full of the brilliant red flowers at this time of the year. But the plants, which are grown each year from imported cuttings, are prone to attack from the tobacco whitefly (Bemisia tabaci), a tiny pest which carries more than 110 viruses. These viruses are a particular threat to other plants grown under cover in the UK, especially tomatoes and cucumbers.

Inspectors from the Food, Environment and Research Agency are now out checking seas of red poinsettias for signs of the fly. About four million poinsettia plants are sold every year in the UK.