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The Role of Foliage in Floral Design

When we think of cut flowers, the thing that immediately comes to mind is cut stems. Yet, foliage is just as important in its own way. It can serve many roles in floral design by providing backgrounds on which we view the flowers. In its own right, foliage can provide color, texture, and visual interest.

Innovative floral designers create entire bouquets solely of foliage with no flowers whatsoever. This may seem like an anathema to some, but in fact these bouquets are quite beautiful.

Among the most popular kinds of cut foliage are herbs, conifer greenery, grasses, and berries, such as flower hips. Foliage may consist of either deciduous or evergreen materials.

Several kinds of foliage tend to be available year-round. These include palm leaves, Monstera, Pittosporum, and Ruscus.

Some herbs are intended specifically for cut flower designs. Silver Streak lavender is an example. This is sold as a cut foliage plant. The stems have a very long vase life, and provide a wonderful fragrance. This is recommended especially for mixed bouquets.

One of the most commonly used foliage plants is the leather leaf fern. In the trade, this is simply called leather leaf. It is important enough for us to look at in some detail. Originally, leather leaf was grown in the U.S. This started in Florida about twenty years or so ago. As with many of the cut flowers, eventually the production of this plant shifted south to Central America where labor costs are lower and the weather resulted in higher quality at a lower price. In Costa Rica, the government provided financial incentives to help its growers. Normally, leather leaf has a long vase life if it is harvested when fairly young. How can you tell a good quality one from a poor one? Carefully notice whether the edges of the leaves are beginning to cur. If so, they are already past their prime, and won’t last very long. The same thing happens if the plants develop under unfavorable growing conditions.

For cut foliage during the summer, we need look no further than our gardens. Start with hostas, and you can’t go wrong. These are best picked after the leaves have completely expanded. If harvested early, they’ll be too soft and won’t last well. Shrubs with variegated or colored foliage are a
wonderful choice. These may be evergreen or deciduous.

So far as fruits and berries are concerned, there are so many from which you can choose. However, I do not recommend using Oriental bittersweet because it is very easy to spread the seeds around without realizing it. Because this plant is so invasive, its use by florists has been banned in some states, including Connecticut. The reason is very clear. This invasive species is widely distributed, and has also become naturalized here in western North Carolina. Though invasive plant experts wanted North Carolina officials to ban the sale of the stems, the state caved in to pressure by the people that collect and sell it—especially at farmers’ markets and the like. Its use in cut flowers can only serve to help the plant spread even more.

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