Children of the Sun

A Floral Riddle: What flower originated in North America, was domesticated by American Indians, commercialized by Russians, and then finally returned to North America for hybridization and commercial farming over 100 years ago?

If you guessed Sunflower you are correct (and observant!). And you get bonus points if you guessed Helianthus (From the Greek: Hēlios, "sun" and anthos, "flower").

sunflower

Sunflower: World Traveler

As mentioned in our riddle, the sunflower’s wild ancestor is native to North America, and it was the American Indians who first domesticated it into a single-headed plant in order to harvest the seeds.  However, they also saw the value and beauty in the plant for non-food uses as well.  According to The American Society of Agronomy, they used all parts of the versatile plant to make dye for textiles, oil for skin and hair, and they even used the sturdy, dried stalk as building material.  The plant itself, along with its seeds, was widely used in ceremonies.

Eventually explorers took this exotic flora back to Europe, where it was adopted and commercialized in Russia.  Why? It just so happened that sunflower oil was one of the few fats allowed to be consumed by Orthodox Russians during Lent, and its demand shot up!  Only in the last 150 years has the sunflower returned to North America as a cultivated crop, and it was here that hybridization techniques were utilized to give us the beloved ornamental sunflower that we offer today. 

sunflower bloom

Chasing the Sun

When farming sunflowers, one needs to be cognizant of one thing--sunflowers love sun. And lots of it.  In fact, they love the sun so much that their heads will follow its path as it passes across the sky.  These large, vibrant blooms also like consistency and hate stress, so an environment of warm, long days and comfortable nights will give sunflowers the weather conditions that keeps them happily reaching for the sky.  Sunflowers are typically planted in field rows, where they have room to stretch and soak up as much sun as possible. 

Sunflower field with plenty of overhead sky

Sunflower field with plenty of overhead sky

The first thing a sunflower forms atop its stalk is its center.  From there, it begins building its petals, and as soon as one petal begins to raise its vibrant head, it signals that the sunflower is ready to be picked.    

Closed sunflowers

Closed sunflowers

After picking, the freshly cut blooms should be hydrated and then shipped while they're still closed, in order to prevents possible damage.  Once they arrive to their destination, the first drink of water will help them open up and flatten out into their iconicshape. They can be shipped wet or dry, with or without foliage, which makes it easy for designers to have their aesthetic pick of the litter. 

sunflower varieties

In addition to the classic yellow-petal-black-eye sunflower, there are several specialty sunflowers available for seasonal spice and color variety, such as Teddy Bear Sunflowers (super soft, multi-layered petals), mahogany-rimmed sunflowers, and red sunflowers.

red sunflowers

So whether you desire the classic black-eye sunflower, its red-hued sister, or teddy bear cousin you can let the sunshine in, no matter where you are.  

sunflower bouquet



Green Ball and Green Trick Dianthus

"Can I touch it?"

  This is THE Dianthus barbatus question.  Looking at the photos, I'm sure you can see why.  Dianthus barbatus (aka Green Ball or Green Trick) looks like a self-contained diorama of a mossy forest (and yes, it is as soft as it looks).

green ball dianthus


The history of Dianthus dates back to over 2000 years, making it one of the oldest cultivated flower varieties.  Greeks and Romans revered the plant, using its flowers for art, decor, and to build their iconic garlands.  Two millennia later, Dianthus is still highly desirable. Just four years ago, two new varieties of Dianthus barbatus--better known as Green Ball and Green Trick--have been made available to the flower market.

These two new varieties provide bouquets with a never-seen-before texture and aspect.  They are round, focal, and green, made up of soft filaments sitting atop a strong carnation-like stem.  The difference between the two is simply size--Green ball has a diameter of 6cm or larger, while Green Trick is categorized as smaller than 6cm.

Freshly picked dianthus

Freshly picked dianthus

Growing Needs

Dianthus likes warm, temperate weather. However, too much heat will kill it, so dianthus growers need to maintain a perfect balance of light and shade, warm and cool.  During summertime, shade cloth is often used, and during winter, they go into hoop houses with plastic coverings to keep the warmth in.

It takes an average of 10-12 weeks from planting until the beginning of harvest, but one can usually tell when the plants are ready because the green heads are full, rotund, and soft in appearance.  This means the plant is mature and prime for picking.

dianthus hoop house

Dianthus ready to be picked

These excellent cut flowers look great in table arrangements and do well accenting other colors. They are easy to incorporate, and they introduce a unique shape, color, and texture to any arrangement.  In addition, the lush blooms are incredibly long-lasting (up to 4 weeks!).  Mix them into woodsy, whimsical, rustic arrangements or pair them with elegant callas, hydrangeas, and lisianthus for an elegant feel.

Add another level to your floral creativity with the versatile and verdant "flower of the gods," Dianthus!

Autumn Rosehips

Rosehips: the plant of a million uses.  Well, maybe not a million, but its reputation as a great source of Vitamin C precedes it by centuries with ancient and modern use in tinctures, jellies, wine, and more.  Take a walk down your local grocery tea aisle and you'll be sure to find some herbal rosehip tea. 

However, rosehips are not just for flavoring foods, they are also for spicing up bouquets. 

rosehip.jpg

So what exactly is a rosehip? Is it a rose or isn't it?  Scientifically speaking, the rosehip is the swollen ovary that contains the rose seeds.  It is the "fruit" of the rose.  If you cut open a rosehip you will find it is full of reproductive seeds. 

Rosehips develop on wild roses as the petals drop off.   These wild roses may not look like the "traditional" roses you are accustomed to, but they are indeed classified as roses.  These species of Rosa are specifically bred to create big, beautiful hips, which is why the regular rosebushes about town will not produce anything quite like them. 

Rose hip flowers being pollinated

Rose hip flowers being pollinated

In order for the seed pod (the hip!) to form, the flowers must first be pollinated.  This usually happens during late spring and summer when the flowers are blooming and the bees are buzzing. 

When summer turns into autumn, the rosehip harvest can begin. They can be harvested as early as August and as late as Christmas, and the month of harvest determines the color of the berry. Early in the season, they start out green; as they progress, they begin to resemble Fuji apples--partially green with reddish swirls; then they develop a beautiful reddish-orange hue and finally, a saturated cherry red. It's almost as if they know what colors are fashionable per season and act accordingly!   

rosehiparrangement.jpg

Once cut, rosehips can keep their color, shape and luminosity for several weeks.  Design wise, rosehips are extremely versatile and fit into the fall and winter color palette perfectly.  You can see how they add texture and a punch of focal color to the arrangements pictured here.

rosehip bouquet.jpg




Fragrant Freesia

Is there any flower as whimsical, playful, and beautiful as freesia?

Purple Freesia.jpg

Their attributes begin with their sequential blooms; they keep opening over time, so each stem has an enormous kinetic energy. Then add their wonderful ambrosia-like scent.  Not only that, the color also determines the smell, so there is a lovely fragrance variety in a bouquet of mixed freesias--some are peppery and sharp, others citrusy and tart.

freesia colors

Another nice aspect of freesia is the stem length.  They can grow to be quite tall, which gives designers a lot of options for dramatic arrangements, and, of course, they can be cut down shorter for corsages and bouquet work.  The elegance of the tall stems are really something to experience.

This mixed bouquet is an excellent example of freesia's versatile stem lengths.

This mixed bouquet is an excellent example of freesia's versatile stem lengths.

Freesia History

Named after the German physician Dr. Friedrich Heinrich Theodor Freese, this flower is a native of Africa. Apparently, the flower was first brought to Europe in the 1700s, however, due to some errors was never properly classified. In 1870’s the flower was rediscovered growing in the Botanic Gardens of Padua, Italy. After this “rediscovery”, it was somehow reconnected to Dr. Freese, and the Freesia became widely cultivated after 1874.
 

How They're Grown

The process of growing a Freesia isn’t a simple one; this is because the temperature of the soil is the key factor in having a robust crop.

Here is how it works: Corms are planted directly in the soil, protected by a hoop house. The crop takes a long time to mature, typically between 20-24 weeks. During this time, the soil needs to be kept pretty warm in order to encourage the plants to grow big, tall, and healthy.  However, if the soil remains warm,  the freesia will never bloom.

Freesia in Hoop Houses

Freesia in Hoop Houses

To change the freesia from a vegetative plant to a budding flower, the soil needs to be cooled down so that it will “set bud” (aka produce flowers). Back in the old days, farmers would literally bury water pipes underground among the rows. They would run warm water through the pipes during the vegetative cycle, then start pumping cold water through the pipes when it was time for budding and the subsequent harvest.

Nowadays, that practice is still used by some, but one of the best ways to grow freesia is using the might of mother nature.   Plant freesia in spring/summer, when the soil is naturally warm.  Then as the season changes to fall, the soil will naturally cool down and freesia will begin budding.  The longer the warm-soil season is, the longer the freesia stems will be.  This is often why flower farmers will plant freesias in hoop houses--they can better control the temperature and consistency which makes for a better-quality freesia bloom.

Freesia Meanings

Freesia are said to symbolize friendship, innocence, thoughtfulness, perseverance and being high-spirited. It is also the flower given for the seventh wedding anniversary. Contemporary florists, noting its graceful appearance, recommend freesia for someone who has performed gracefully under pressure.

FreesiaUpclose.jpg





The History of Intricate Roselilies

If you haven't yet experienced the elegant and unique Roselily, you're in for quite the treat.  These extraordinary flowers are a special series of multi-layered lilies.  Just take a look at the soft, unfurled petals in the photo below.

Roselily Belonica

Roselily Belonica

As you can see, when Roselilies are fully open, they resemble the stratified characteristics of a rose, while still boasting the exceptionally positive attributes of a lily (hence the name).  

What are these "exceptionally positive attributes?"  First, for all their complicated beauty, Roselilies do not have a heavy or overpowering scent.  Rather, they offer up a light fragrance which doesn't trigger sensitive noses.  Second, they produce no pollen, which is great news for allergy-sufferers and neat-freaks alike. And third, just look at them! They are incredible, singular, and breathtaking.

roselilycenter

Roselilies are still a relatively new breed; discovered, developed, and perfected by De Looff Lily Innovation in the early 2000s.  However, commercial production of these exceptional flowers didn't actually start until a decade later (around 2011) with the favorite, Roselily Belonica.

The strongest attribute of a Roselily is its large, lushly layered bloom.  They grow best in warm, controlled greenhouse environments, which puts every bit of stored energy in the lily bulb to work.  In this way, the bulb builds its kingdom of one to two, 6+ inch blooms atop a strong, sturdy stem, seemingly multiple flowers in one.

Roselily Belonica in the Greenhouse

Roselily Belonica in the Greenhouse

The team of De Looff hasn't stopped developing new varieties, such as the striking pink Elena, the softer-hued Natalia, and the pure white variety, My Wedding (see photos below).  These beautiful and lush lilies are growing in popularity, and I'm sure that new varieties and hues will continue to come to market as demand increases.

Roselilies L-R: Elena and My Wedding

Roselilies L-R: Elena and My Wedding



Matsumoto Asters

This vibrant flower, also known as the Japanese Aster (Callistephus) has lengthy, sturdy stems paired with layers of long-lasting, soft flowers.  And I mean soft.  Rub-your-face-in-them-soft.

matsumoto asters

The history of this long-stemmed annual is noteworthy—it is native to the eastern regions of Asia, and the name Aster hails from the Latin word for “star,” while its scientific name, Callistephus, comes from the Greek word for “beautiful crown.”  You can see why agronomists of old named it as they did—the flower’s snugly packed, thickly fringed petals that surrounds its rich, yellow center strongly resembles a star as well as a crown.  It’s enough to make you want to fashion a star-flower tiara for yourself and parade through a field of blooms.

pink aster matsumotos

pink aster matsumotos

Typically, asters are a strict late summer/early fall variety, but with a carefully organized aster program, blooms are able to flourish year-round.  They respond well to cool, coastal climates and are often grown in hoop houses, where they are protected by cold evenings, even during the colder months of winter.

Unlike bulb flowers, asters are grown from rooted seed, which requires no pre-cooling before planting.   Even without that additional cooling cycle, the entire growing process from seedling to flower takes approximately 10-15 weeks to complete.

Purple matsumoto asters

Purple matsumoto asters

Asters show full color when they’re ready to be picked, providing flower farmers with some great eye candy.  Walking through seas of long-stemmed red, pink, purple, and bi-colored aster blooms is quite a treat.

Asters bring liveliness and vibrancy to any flower arrangement, but they also shine brightly on their own.  Add them to large, mixed bouquets, or placing them in a tall vase on their own as a simple and happy floral piece.

Closeup of the red aster

Closeup of the red aster







Hyacinth and Basal Plates

Hyacinth are a classic bulb flower with a very passionate fan base (myself included).  They are a fascinating bit of flora--each stem has rows of intricate blossoms saturated in deep shades of blue, violet, white, pink, and yellow, each hue paired with a notable, super-heady fragrance.  When a hyacinth first begins to bloom, it produces a light floral aroma, but once the flowers fully open up the scent becomes intoxicating and powerful.  To walk into a room that contains a vase of hyacinth smells like walking into a flower shop, or arriving on the tarmac in Hawaii, or entering an English garden full of sweet flowers--absolutely heavenly.  

Purple "Atlantic" and Pink "Ann Marie" Hyacinth varieties

Purple "Atlantic" and Pink "Ann Marie" Hyacinth varieties

To grow, hyacinths need a particular set of environmental controls.  The planted bulbs need to sit in the dark for about 14-16 weeks (in a climate-controlled rooting room, or in actual winter).  During this time, they are slowly building a root structure below and yellow-green sprouts above.

Yellow-green hyacinth sprouts

Yellow-green hyacinth sprouts

Once their root structure is fully developed and the sprouts are a few inches tall, baby hyacinths can be moved into a specially designed warm, humid hoop house. The heat and humidity work together to stretch the hyacinth stems to a length of 12-14 inches.   

Within one short week of being moved from rooting room to hot hoop house, the hyacinth foliage will be dark green, their clusters of bell-shaped flowers will be showing color, and they will be giving off their signature pungent aroma. They are now ready to be "pulled."

You'll notice I said "pulled," not "picked."  The entire plant (bulb and all) must be pulled out of the ground, and then the outside of the bulb is removed, and the center is kept intact.  The bottom of this white bulb is called the “basal plate,” and when left on, it allows nutrients to continue flowing to the flower, strengthening it and doubling its vase life.

The Basal Plate

The Basal Plate

This basal plate is important.  When you receive a box or bouquet of hyacinths, do not trim the stems as you would with other flowers--leave the basal plate intact.  The hyacinth will continue to absorb water and nutrients through this plate.

hyacinth collection.jpg

They look great on their own, whether as a simple, single-color bouquet or combined with other colors.  Hyacinths also look fabulous in mixed bunches.  A flower that it complements really well is the tulip. Their contrasting shapes and texturesplay well together and the variety of color combinations is limitless.

Yellow Tulips and Pink Hyacinths   

Yellow Tulips and Pink Hyacinths

 

Red and Pink hyacinth and tulip combination

Red and Pink hyacinth and tulip combination

 The tulips natural stretching was accentuated by stones in the bottom of the vase, so it looks like tulips with a hyacinth "collar".

 The tulips natural stretching was accentuated by stones in the bottom of the vase, so it looks like tulips with a hyacinth "collar".

Gorgeous geophytes

Do you know what tulips, freesia, irisgladiolus, and lilies have in common?  Yes, they are all flowers, but the deeper, more fundamental commonality is that each one is a flowering bulb.

Tulip bulbs

Tulip bulbs

Geo+Phyte = Earth+Plant

While the word geophyte sounds like something you would call a pundit or a politician, it’s simply the overarching term for any plant with a large underground storage organ, which is commonly referred to as “the bulb.”  True bulbs (tulips, iris, and lilies) consist of layers of modified leaves and a shoot in its center.  However, this organ can come in different forms—when it is built like a thickened underground stem, it is called a tuber (think potatoes, calla lilies); when it is built like a bulb, but with additional nodes,  it is known as a corm (think freesia; gladiolus).

No matter what underground form a geophyte may take, a bulb is a perfect, self-contained little world.  It is able to store food and nutrients which allow for rapid growth and its hardiness gives it the capability to survive frost and other harsh environmental conditions.

Here's a closer look at what's inside:

Parts of a "true bulb"

Parts of a "true bulb"

Chasing the Climate Cycle

Bulbs cycle through vegetative and reproductive growth stages that look something like this: planted in the cool of the fall, a bulb will send out roots into the soil.  Tulips, in particular, need 13-15 weeks of cool weather to help establish strong roots. If the winter is particularly cold, freezing temperatures may halt the growth of the roots but will not kill them. Left to their own devices, bulbs can last quite a long time.

Sprouting tulip bulb

Sprouting tulip bulb

When spring arrives, the warmer weather reawakens the bulbs and they send their shoots out towards the sky and over a few weeks, they begin to flower. Certain environmental conditions are needed to trigger the transition from one stage to the next, such as the shift from a cold winter to spring. If you grow bulb flowers year-round, you must mimic the seasons and trick the bulbs to behave through control of temperature and light.  Despite geophytes diminutive size, they certainly do not lack in complexity.

 

 

 

The Cultivation of Iris

The long, sturdy stems of the Iris and its complex, mosaic blooms give it an air of tranquility and mystery.  One look at a vase of Iris one is immediately transported to a quiet, sunny field caressed by a light breeze.

lovely iris

lovely iris

Iris Bulbs

Temperature is key when storing and planting iris bulbs. Unlike other flowering bulbs--which are stored cold--iris bulbs are stored in heated rooms.  The heat keeps the bulbs dormant, and once the time for planting comes, their warm  slumber is broken with ethylene gas.  This is just another way flower farmers mimic nature.  Ethylene is already present in all plants as a hormone and acts to stimulate the ripening of your banana, the opening of flowers, or, in this case, the waking of dormant bulbs.  But that's just the first step in planting.  Second, the newly awakened bulbs must be cooled down, which encourages root development.

Iris sprouts

Iris sprouts

 Once awake and cooled, the iris bulbs can be planted in fresh, fertile soil.  Depending the season (as well as geographical location) iris can be planted in hoop houses (fall and winter) or in open fields (spring and summertime).  What they need is sufficient sun during the day, without oppressive heat that can cause them to go dormant.   From bulb to flower, it usually takes 2-3 months before irises are ready to be harvested.

Freshly Harvested Iris

Freshly Harvested Iris

Yellow Iris tips

Yellow Iris tips

Lily Hybrids: The Longiflorum Asiatic

Longiflorum Asiatic Lilies--better known as LA Hybrids--are not your average garden variety lilies; these are a man-made flower species, hybridized for better performance, and bred to meet and exceed the needs of flower lovers, connoisseurs, and novices alike.  Their blooms are bigger than traditional Asiatics, their vase life is the longest of any lily, and they boast the widest variety of colors.  Not only that, they are virtually scentless--perfect for those who have sensitive noses or allergies.

Orange LA Hybrid

Orange LA Hybrid

Their outstanding vase life and distinct trumpet-like shape are both traits they take from their Longiflorum side.  Their Asiatic blood guides the blooms to face upward while also being responsible for their warm, super-saturated hues. 

Yellow LA Hybrid Lilies

Yellow LA Hybrid Lilies

Growing Practices

LA Hybrids love moist, rich soil, so its best to pre-water the terrain before planting the bulbs directly into the ground.  These lilies also love warm days and cool nights, so they do well near the coast, taking about 12-16 weeks to reach the perfect time to pick--still closed, showing some color on the buds. 

LA Hybrid lilies sprouting

LA Hybrid lilies sprouting

Slow growing practices allow enough time for all the energy and nutrients from the bulb to reach the buds, so their vase life is incredible and the colors really pop.

With the right growing environment, these lilies can be harvested year-round.  They are perfect for people who love a big, bold lily, but who are also sensitive to the scent that traditionally accompanies other lily types.