Preserved flowers? What’s it all about? | 6 min read
You may have come across the term ‘preserved flowers’ in recent years and become slightly confused by the ambiguous terminology in the flower industry. I mean, what are preserved flowers? Are they the same as dried flowers? Are preserved flowers everlasting? Does everlasting mean forever? In the post to follow, I hope to demystify some of the confusion in the flower lexicon.
The popularity of preserved flowers has grown exponentially in the last couple of years; however, the process of preserving flowers has been used in the flower industry for some time. In its simplest definition, a preserved flower is one that is dried in a preservation solution that functions to maintain the softness of the flower. According to Aileen Reid, in an article for the WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, the preservation solution usually contains glycerol or glycerine, a hygroscopic compound, that essentially draws and retains water from its surroundings (2). Due to its water retention, the glycerol prevents the flower from drying excessively (Reid 2). Rather than a brittle dried stem prone to breakage, the preserved flower result is closer to a fresh stem, soft and pliable for use in design. In recent years, the age-old process of flower preservation has grown in scale to that of a mass-produced industry where chemical processing has become increasingly complex.
The preserved flower industry has made it possible to have any and all flowers available to florists in every conceivable colour of the rainbow. Whether this is a welcomed concept is really beside the point, but as you might imagine there are more chemical processes involved to make, say, a ruby-red length of Italian ruscus a reality. According to Rita Feldmann, Director of the Sustainable Floristry Network, to achieve preserved flowers of varied shades “the material must first have all the natural pigment bleached from the plant. The harsh bleaching process renders the cellulose of the plant material brittle, so as to counteract this, it’s immersed in preserving solution. Then there are humectants to retain moisture, solvents to assist with solution intake, fungicides to prevent mildew, and sometimes even fragrance” (12). Full disclosure: not all preserved flower producers are created equal. Some companies may opt for greater use of chemicals than others; however, that isn’t to say that there aren’t any preserved flower companies that undertake environmental considerations in their methods. Verdissimo is a European-based producer of preserved flowers and foliage trading since 1988, who utilise a preservation formula that is “100% plant-based and biodegradable” (What are preserved flowers?). Earth Matters is Japan’s largest producer of preserved plant materials who are making concerted efforts to minimize their environmental impact. For example, in a recent Instagram post, Earth Matters Ohchi explained one of their environmental initiatives: “[w]e compost organic waste from fresh flowers and dried materials and use them in our cultivation department as mulching and soil conditioner.” Closer to home, Fleur Ever is a New Zealand-based producer whose process employs a natural preservation liquid and pigments that are entirely plant-based. Even local producer, The Green Shed who have branched into the preservation game utilise a plant-based preservation solution and dyes. I could keep going, but my point is if environmental sustainability is your primary concern, then you need to read the label and know where your products come from and how they are produced.
Personally, I’m of the opinion that nothing is 100% good or 100% bad. Even the brightly coloured preserved hydrangea that comes in a non-descript plastic sleeve marked ‘made in China’ may be considered a sustainable choice. While there is no company ID for me to be able to verify the environmental ethics of their preservation process, the fact that the longevity of preserved flowers and foliage is far superior to fresh materials is a sustainability argument worth considering. The ‘everlasting’ label may be something of a misnomer, perhaps ‘long-lasting’ would be more accurate; nevertheless, a design containing preserved blooms should have a lifespan between 2-5 years. This kind of longevity can sometimes be overlooked, but it is hugely significant compared to the average 5-10 day vase life of fresh blooms. It’s no secret that the fresh cut flower industry is a resource depleting one. So, given the longevity of preserved flowers, the consumer base opting to purchase preserved flowers every two years rather than a fresh bouquet each month could, in effect, relieve some of the impact of the cut flower industry. If we then re-consider the ethics debate of the preserved hydrangea in the blank sleeve and caveat that while it is less than ideal to have no knowledge of its production, given the longevity, the environmental questionability of that hydrangea may be negligible overall.
As far as my design aesthetic is concerned, I like to use a mixture of naturally dried and preserved flowers in my work. I endeavour to have an eco-conscious approach. I believe it’s important to know where your flowers come from and know how they are produced. I choose not to use floral foam and opt for natural materials in my sundries. Wherever possible, I prefer to work with locally sourced flowers or Australian-grown. I believe we should be cognisant of sustainability in the floristry industry and that preserved florals have their place in the sustainability conversation.
I hope I have been able to provide some clarification in the confusion of floristry terminology. Let me know where you stand on sustainability and comment below.
Earth Matters Ohchi “Environmental Initiatives at Ohchi Nursery Part 2.” Instagram, 6 December 2021, www.instagram.com/p/CXHtDbzvZnZ/.
Feldmann, Rita. “Bleached, coloured & preserved ‘flowers.’” Flowers Magazine, Issue 78, Oct/Nov 2020, pp. 12-13. Flower Industry Australia, flowerindustryaustralia.com.au/flowers-magazine-issue-78-oct-nov-2020/.
General Information on Fleur Ever. Fleur Ever, 2022, fleurever.nz/.
Reid, Aileen. “Drying cut flowers and foliage.” Agriculture and Food, Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, 13 January 2015, www.agric.wa.gov.au/nursery-cutflowers/drying-cut-flowers-and-foliage.“What are preserved flowers?” Verdissimo, 2022, www.verdissimo.com/en/what-are-preserved-flowers.