A new generation of preserved flowers has been launched on the market as an ecological alternative to fresh flowers. Preserved flowers seduce creatives who are excited about the promise of a new look. But how are these flowers stored, where do they come from, and are they really sustainable?
Preserved flowers may have been at the height of fashion at the beginning of the pandemic, but the recent trend can probably go back to at least 2014 when American floral artist Brittany Asch of Brrch let Instagram’s flower feeds bloom with photos of artificially dyed flowers phalaenopsis orchids. While painting orchids weren’t revolutionary, the photos caused a craze and perhaps opened up larger philosophical discussions about what exactly is “natural.”
How does this traditional preservation method work?
Traditional preservation processes include hanging flowers upside down in a back room, splitting stems for harmless absorption of dye-stained water, or dosing hydrangea with a glycerin feeding. Today, these methods have been replaced by industrial techniques that have spawned a new industry.
To make green mint-gelati-colored hydrangea or a weeping amaranthus in fire brigade red, the material must first have bleached all the natural pigments from the plant. The hard bleaching process makes the cellulose in the plant material brittle, so to counteract this, it is immersed in a preservation solution. Then there are humectants to retain moisture, solvents to help with the absorption of the solution, and fungicides to prevent dew and sometimes odor. If the material is colored, dye is added. In fact, the plant material has replaced its liquids, just like a head of state being embalmed for eternal display in a pyramid.
Range of conservation flowers
The range of products, such as Mother’s Day flowers, is extensive. We no longer find five bunches of dyed blue flowers languishing in a box at a market in Amsterdam. Today, many large dealers, such as Bloompost, have a special section for preserved flowers. Most are imported, with most of the products coming from China, Japan, India, Southeast Asia, and Italy. As for where and who does the processing and what preservation processes are followed, it is impossible to say, since most material appears in generic, unlabeled covers.
Better option: grow and sell locally
The idea that locally grown and seasonally yields a more sustainable cut flower option is clearly not getting any attention from larger dealers. A better option would be to have these materials produced at local flower companies and sold in the region.
For example, transport requires fuels and releases greenhouse gases. But: the more local the flowers, the fewer transport kilometers and therefore the lower the effect on the environment. For flowers from further afield, the mode of transport makes a huge difference. Transportation by plane is by far the worst option. Transport by truck is a better option, and rail transport is even more sustainable, 10 times as sustainable as a truck!