Ethylene and Vase Life of Flowers
Ethylene is a natural plant hormone that is released by all types of fruits as well as aging flowers and foliage. This gas is also present in exhaust fumes from various kinds of gasoline and diesel powered vehicles and equipment. Natural gas and propane heaters also release this. Welding can also emit this gas. Ethylene gas can also be found in cigarette smoke as well.
Some flowers are more sensitive to ethylene than others. This can cause a range of symptoms in flowers, particularly with respect to the vase life of the stems. Ethylene can even cause the leaves and petals to fall off. The petals can become translucent. The blossoms can become distorted and age prematurely. The leaves can turn yellow.
There are chemicals that can protect flowers from harmful ethylene gas. These ethylene blockers are used by commercial cut flower growers and
wholesalers of cut flowers. These are used mostly for ethylene sensitive flowers. This treatment is applied under controlled conditions, and isn’t available to the general public.
There are practical things floral designers can do to limit the effect of this gas on ethylene-sensitive flowers. The first one is obvious—don’t allow cigarette smoke in the house or work area.
Whenever possible, keep ripening fruits away from your flowers. Most fruits tend to release large amounts of ethylene gas. If you’re designing a floral arrangement that combines flowers and fruits, just realize ahead of time that this can affect the vase life of the flowers.
Until you’re ready to use them, store flowers in a cool, well ventilated place. Once floral arrangements are complete, check them on a daily basis. When you’re adding water remove any aging blossoms to limit their effects on the other flowers.
Flowers under stress are mostly likely to release ethylene—especially ones whose stems have suffered water loss. That is one more reason it is always important to keep stems properly hydrated.
Certain kinds of flowers are more sensitive to ethylene. Handle those with special care.
Spring blooming flowers that display some level of sensitivity include freesias, iris, daffodils, and ranunculus. Some of the most commonly used blossoms can be sensitive. These include snapdragons, stock, larkspur, Alstroemeria, carnations, gladiolus, baby’s breath, and lilies.
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