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  • Sensitive Flowers
    By Rich Salvaggio, AAF, AIFD, PFCI
    Teleflora Vice President of Floral Publications

    Flowers and Profits®

    It seems that some of the showier, more fragrant flowers are the same ones that wilt more quickly or bruise with the slightest touch, but don't shy away from these tender beauties. With the right touch, they can add flair to your next floral arrangement.

    Flowers are like people in that some are tough and resilient while others are fragile and need tender, loving care. Treat them right and they can be standouts. All it takes to use fragile flowers is a little know-how.

    Many flowers and foliage are a snap to use in floral design, requiring minimal attention and no special after-care. They are less susceptible to wilting and bruising.

    The sensitive ones, such as gardenias, stephanotis, lily of the valley and orchids often get a "bad rap" and are dismissed far too often when designers select materials for their next creations. It's a shame since these same flowers are favorites of many people and have wonderful properties, including wafting fragrances and creamy petals.

    Care and Handling

    When you purchase sensitive flowers and foliage make sure they are in good condition and not damaged on their arrival. Many of these more perishable items are subject to rapid transpiration, a process by which the moisture evaporates quickly from the petals and leaves. Cut blossoms can often be re-hydrated by floating them or submerging them in water.

    Different methods of working with these temperamental varieties can prevent bruising, discoloration, and early wilting. Once the designs are completed, fixatives can be applied to ensure longevity and durability. The following are techniques for successful designing with a few of the more common fragile flowers and foliage.

    Callas and Amaryllis

    Callas and Amaryllis have fleshy and hollow stems making them more difficult to use in designs that require floral foam. With a design knife or pencil, create a hole or well in the floral foam slightly smaller than the stem diameter. This procedure will allow the stems to be inserted into the foam with less resistance so you don't break or bend the stems when placing them. Insert a hyacinth stake into the hollow stem of amaryllis for added support.

    To hold these flowers in place once they have been inserted into floral foam, pierce them through the stem base into the foam with wire, greening pins or small wood picks.

    To unfurl calla blossoms, manipulate the flower with your fingers while holding it under running, lukewarm tap water. Use your fingers and a slow flow of tap water to force the calla open by rolling back the tubular petals.


    Some varieties of orchids, particularly dendrobiums, last longer when they are hydrated through submersion as soon as they arrive in the shop. Remove them from their packaging and soak them upside down in room temperature water, covering the flowers for 10 to 20 minutes. Re-cut the stems and store loosely in preservative water. (This soaking method works well for some tropical flowers, such as ginger, at an optimum temperature of 50 to 55 degrees.)

    Cattleya, cymbidium and phalaenopsis orchids are best revived by floating them in lukewarm water for 10 to 20 minutes prior to designing with them. Take care not to touch the throats and petals, which can spot or bruise easily. To touch up water spots on white cattleya orchids, dust the area with white talcum powder.

    Enhance the color of phalaenopsis and cymbidiums by using spray tints. Hold the stem of the blossom and mist the backside lightly and evenly with colored tint sprays. To touch up the transparency on white cymbidium orchids, spray the back lightly and evenly with flat-white spray paint.

    Gardenias and Stephanotis

    Gardenias and stephanotis are both moisture-loving flowers and survive handling better in damp conditions. Float them in a bowl of water for a few minutes before using them. Misting them while handling them in design can prevent spotting and bruising. Working with them on wet paper towels limits damage.

    When using gardenias in a design, cover them with a layer of wet facial tissue or a layer of lightweight, wet paper towels. In stephanotis, make sure the packaging does not rest on the petals.

    Opening and Holding Tips

    Tuberoses and Star of Bethlehem are best left out of the cooler for development. When designing with them, mist with water to prevent bruising.

    Lily of the Valley will retain its fragrance and be more durable if dipped in a mixture of Elmer's Glue® and water.

    Ivy tends to wilt easily. Hydrating ivy by submerging it in water is beneficial. Fixatives may be used to seal in moisture and prevent wilting. Clear floral glazes and glues, Pixie Sparkle®, Crowning Glory® or floor wax can be used to keep ivy crisp and lively.

    Sensitive to Sensational

    Try using these methods to include lovely but sensitive floral specimens in your next design. With a little extra care, you can use fragile flowers right along with their hardier cousins.

    It might take a little more time, but the results will delight your customers and stimulate your creativity.


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