With alluring colors, exotic shapes and rugged woody stems, proteas are the new “it” bloom. The family tree originates in South Africa and these flowers are vibrant and hardy. Vase life is always a concern for flower farmers, wholesalers, florists and consumers. Proteas have a reputation for having a long vase life, but even the most resilient cut flowers will not last if they do not receive proper care.
Farmers see proteas when they are at their best — in the field on the bush! Once harvested, proteas slowly start deteriorating. It’s slowing down that waning process that makes all the difference.
Purchasing the freshest proteas possible is a great start. How do you know whether the flowers are fresh, or whether they have been sitting in a cooler room for days (or even weeks)? With many types of blooms, it can be difficult to spot the difference; often only the farmer can tell. However, with proteas there are some key clues:
- Protea blooms should be clean and evenly colored, with no bruised or greyish bracts. Leaves should be green and healthy looking.
- Certain protea species, such as eximia, occasionally experience leaf blackening, which can happen even under the best circumstances. If you discover leaf blackening, but the protea otherwise appears fresh and healthy, a good trick is to remove the leaves, making the flowers even more prominent.
- Proteas open over an extended period of time. As soon as the flower’s bracts begin to separate at the tip of the bloom, they should be harvested. With genera such as leucospermum, isopogon or waratah, once the stamens emerge from the center of the flower and unfold out of base, farmers will pick them and the flowers will continue to open. As a rule of thumb, buy proteas that have not fully opened and enjoy watching them as they do.
Diana Roy is the business manager of Resendiz Brothers Protea Growers in Fallbrook, California. In September, the grower won Floral Management’s Marketer of the Year award for its efforts to popularize proteas.