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Anything But Ordinary – Inspiring & Unique Flowers

As a gardener and as an artist and photographer, I have long been attracted to more unusual plants — those that are showy, quirky, alien-like, and over-the-top — anything but ordinary. Any plant or flower that makes me ask, “what in the world is that?” has a place in my garden! Many of these flowers can also be used in bouquets, adding a touch of the exotic and unusual to any arrangement.

Unusual Flower Types & Photos

Globe Thistle (Echinops ritro)
Globe Thistle

Globe Thistle (Echinops ritro)
Globe Thistle is a clump-forming herbaceous perennial with coarse, prickly leaves with 1-2 ball-shaped silvery-lavender-blue or dark blue flowerheads blooming in early to late summer on rigid branching stems 24-48 inches tall. These beautiful ornamentals grow best in full sun to mostly sunny areas and attract bees and butterflies. In the garden, they will tolerate heat and are deer-resistant. They make excellent cut flowers as well as great additions to dried bouquets.
This flower IS available from your local florist*.

Allium Bulgaricum (Nectaroscordum siculum)
Allium Bulgaricum

Allium Bulgaricum (Nectaroscordum siculum)
This ornamental allium is easy to grow, deer-resistant, and hardy to zone 4. They thrive in sunlight and bloom in May and June. Also known as Mediterranean Bells, Sicilian Honey Lily, Ornamental Onion and Sicilian Garlic, they are native to the Mediterranean. The individual florettes begin in an upright position and gradually relax to a cluster of tricolored bells and begin to drape like a floral chandelier. They make an interesting addition to flower arrangements.

Bat Face Cuphea (Cuphea llavea)
Bat Face Cuphea

Bat Face Cuphea (Cuphea llavea)
Also known as St. Peter’s plant, Tiny Mice and Bunny Ears, Bat Face Cuphea is a tender tropical evergreen perennial native to Mexico. Bat Face Cuphea prefer partial to full sun and its distinctive red and purple flowers blooms from March through October. Attractive to hummingbirds and bees, the plant is low maintenance, drought-tolerant and makes a great plant for pots, planters, and beds. The plants will grow 2-3 feet tall by 3 feet wide. In early summer, pinch growth off to encourage branching.

Cat’s Whiskers (Orthosiphon stamineus)
Cat’s Whiskers

Cat’s Whiskers (Orthosiphon stamineus)
Part of the mint family, Cat’s Whiskers are herbaceous perennial flowering plants originating in tropical East Asia. They grow up to two feel tall and three to four feet wide. The flowers have an orchid-like appearance and are white or lavender, sprouting long stamens that resemble cat’s whiskers. They attract butterflies and hummingbirds and can be harvested to use in herbal teas.

Family Jewels Milkweed Tree (Asclepias physocarpa)
Family Jewels Milkweed

Family Jewels Milkweed Tree (Asclepias physocarpa)
This species of milkweed is also known as White Butterfly Weed or Swan Plant. Native to Jamaica and South America, this perennial herb can grow to over six feet and prefers full sun and well-drained soil. It is a food source for caterpillars and is a food and habitat plant for the Monarch Butterfly. The small flowers are creamy white and orchid-like, followed by translucent, inflated 2″ green balls covered with soft bristles that are the resulting seedpods. It is a fast-growing tender perennial and grows best in Zones 7-10.

Firecracker Vine or Spanish Flag (Mina lobata)
Spanish Flag

Firecracker Vine or Spanish Flag (Mina lobata)
A tender perennial grown as an annual, this fast climber can grow 10 to 20 feet tall. The incredibly intense-colored 1.5″ blooms are reddish-orange fading to orange yellow and white flowers from mid-summer to fall. Two cultivars include Citronella (cream flowers and red buds) and Mexican Fiesta (red and yellow flowers). A member of the morning glory family, Spanish Flag can be grown in sun to partial shade and is best grown on a lattice.

Red or Yellow Hot Poker (Kniphofia)
Hot Poker

Red or Yellow Hot Poker (Kniphofia)
Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia uvaria) and Yellow Hot Poker plants are grown from bulbs, and are heat and drought tolerant. They can grow 36″ tall. This variety is ‘Sally’s Comet’ Yellow Hot Poker. Native to Africa, they are known as Torch Lilies. Upright, rocket-shaped blooms produce ample nectar during blooming and are hummingbird magnets. They must be grown in full sun and require good drainage to prevent crown rot. They may spread up to three feet wide. Hardy to zones 5-10.
This flower IS available from your local florist*.

Liatris or Blazing Star (Liatris)
Liatris

Liatris or Blazing Star (Liatris)
Hardy perennials White Liatris (Liatris spicata ‘Alba’) and Purple Blazing Star Liatris (Liatris spicata purple), are also known as Gayfeather and Button Snakeroot, and are a member of the Aster family. They bloom from the top down, which is unusual with flowering plants. Each spike is comprised of tiny flowers that are a magnet for pollinators. Ranging from 2-4′ tall, they add height to flower beds and are a popular cut flower in summer floral arrangements with a long vase life.
This flower IS available from your local florist*.

Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella damascena)
Love-in-a-Mist

Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella damascena)
Love-in-a-Mist is a beautiful Victorian garden annual blooming in soft shades of blue, pink, white, and lavender. Because its fern-like leaves look similar to fennel, it has also been called fennel flower. This annual herbaceous plant is in the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae), readily self-seeds, and is common in old-fashioned cottage gardens. It grows in full sun to partial shade and blooms from late spring through fall. Nigella is short-lived, so for continuous bloom, repeat sowing every four weeks. You can cut and deadhead this plant to keep it flowering longer.
This flower IS available from your local florist*.

[Read more…]

Preparing Bird Of Paradise For the Long Haul

Flower Arrangement with Bird Of Paradise

Ask the Expert: How do I successfully “open” Birds of Paradise?

Twice a year I install flowers on the high altar and in the Lady Chapel in memory of my mother. Once on or about September 13 and again on or about April 7, or Resurrection Day depending on Lent.

My mother adored yellow roses and Birds of Paradise. When she died the only floral work was a huge (double) cascade casket piece made up of the aforementioned roses, birds and greens.

I have tried ever since to use the two when I install the flowers. I find the combination perfect in April for the Resurrection and in September as Fall approaches.

I tend to tear the pod. The “petals” seem very delicate and I lose a lot of them. At least 2-3 out of ten never thrive. They look dead. I normally pick up the flowers on Friday afternoon and install them before 02:00 PM on Saturday.

Like funeral work, the flowers do not have to look good for very long. The goal is they last through noon day prayer on Wednesday. Nit a huge problem if they do not.

I am purchasing the flowers through a wholesale florist. We have done business with them as long as I can remember with no problems whatsoever. It’s me, not the flowers. Edward

Flower Shop Network‘s Plant Expert Reply:
Correctly prepping the flowers is the key. When you pick the flowers up run lukewarm water over the flower heads. Then manually open the bracts and gently pull florets up. In our Elements of Design: Preparing Birds of Paradise, we demonstrate how to do this.

I also recut the stems of the Birds of Paradise. Another big factor is to make sure the Birds are stored at a temperature above 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

Propagating Bird Of Paradise – Strelitzia

Ask the Expert: where are the seeds on a white bird of paradise?
I want to propagate my white bird of paradise but am unable to get the entire root system of the babies. I’ve attempted it and not been successful, seeing as how they’re too deep in the ground. They stay green for about a week or two then die. Is there a specific time when I should be doing this? I’m thinking maybe the seeds. Are the seeds in the flower itself? If not where? Arcelia

Plant Expert Reply:
To propagate Bird of Paradise (Strelitizia) you divide the root suckers from the plant in the late spring. You want to dig up clumps that have 4 or more shoots. You will separate them into single stems removing the dead leaves & roots. You can wash the roots and even soak them in a bleach water solution (1 part bleach – ten parts water) for ten minutes – this will help with any bacterial problems that can arise. Then you can plant the divisions – be sure they are plant at the same depth as they were originally. It can take up to 12weeks for new roots to form. So be patient. This propagation method will take 1 to 2 years to achieve a mature blooming plant.

You can start Bird of Paradise from seed. However, it will take 3 to 5 years for the seed to become a mature plant. If you plan on harvesting the seeds from your own plant, look for black round seeds that have a fuzzy orange cover on one end. Before you plant them you will need to soften the hard exterior of the seed. Do this by soaking the seeds in room temperature water over night. You will need to also nick the seed before you plant it. Keep you soil moist as the seeds germinate.

Good Luck and let me know how it goes.

Elements of Design: Preparing Bird of Paradise

It’s the time of the year when tropical flower arrangements are hot, hot items in the flower shop. Birds of paradise, orchids, protea, anthuriums, dendrobium and other exotic tropical flowers are big ticket flowers used in a wide variety of tropical arrangements. One of my favorite tropical flowers is the bird of paradise. It’s a stunning beauty that brings so much to any tropical arrangement. For this reason, I recently asked Regina Berryman (AIFD, AAF) to show me some of her design techniques for creating beautiful tropical flower arrangements using bird of paradise. Here is her technique for opening bird of paradise to reveal its finest qualities.

Bird of Paradise Tropical Flowers Arrangement

Bird of Paradise Tropical Flowers Arrangement

Opening Bird of Paradise To Reveal High Quality

Regina has worked with tropical flowers for many years now. Being less experienced with tropical flowers, Regina decided to show me how to open bird of paradise in a way that reveals its best quality and eliminates any flaws from shipping or packaging. First, place the stem of the bird of paradise firmly between your legs. Place both thumbs on the crease (the opening) and gently pry the crease open. Next place your thumbs together under the “heart” and raise your thumbs at the same time. This allows you to raise the beautiful part of the flower out of its shell and strip it of the lower quality flowers.

Next, oddly enough, strip the lower quality flowers. These are the light orange to white colored flowers that are next to or against the more brightly colored orange/red flowers. Since the vibrantly colored flowers give bird of paradise its appeal, strip the less colorful ones by taking a firm hold, gently pulling straight back toward the stem, then pulling the flower straight out once you have loosened it enough to be removed all at once. If you do not pull toward the stem, you run the risk of ripping the flower toward the tightly clustered base instead of removing it.

To open bird of paradise, place both thumbs on the crease (opening).

To open bird of paradise, place both thumbs on the crease (opening).

Place thumbs together under the flowers and pull up.

Place thumbs together under the flowers and pull up.

Unfold and separate each piece.

Unfold and separate each piece.

Loosen and strip by pulling toward stem then straight out.

Loosen and strip by pulling toward stem then straight out.

Now you're ready to create a beautiful tropical flower arrangement!

Now you're ready to create a beautiful tropical flower arrangement!

Plant Care For Bird Of Paradise Plants

Ask The Expert: I recently moved to Florida and have Bird of paradise.  Do I need to cut them back..and if so, when if the proper time to do so.

Thank you,
Daniel Lenzi


Strelitzia reginae

Caesalpinia gilliesii

The White Bird Of Paradise

Ask the Expert: I live about 20 miles north of Montgomery, AL and

I would like to know more about the white bird plant.  Can it be planted outside and how can it be propagated?

Tropical Flowers: A Great Tribute To A Parrot Head

I attended a birthday party last night for a Parrot Head (a Jimmy Buffet Fan) and as you can imagine the decorations and drinks screamed “tropical”. The most impressive thing at the party was the margarita table and not because of the margaritas. The hostess had her local florist create a beautiful tropical flower arrangement for the table. The arrangement was similar to this one

parrot.jpeg but on a larger scale. This arrangement contains bird of paradise, anthurium, protea, horsetail, hypericum, curly willow & monstera.
The arrangement at the party also included ginger. The tropical theme was continued through out the party. Vases containing bird of paradise, ginger, protea and anthurium were also on the food table. It was nice to see someone using tropical flowers as a table decoration. We all tend to neglect using exotic or tropical flowers in favor of more traditional flowers. I love to Protea in a ginger jar. I would love to know how you use use tropical flowers?

Can You Identify This Rescued Plant?

Brian asks:

My sister thought you might be able to help me identify this plant. Rescued it from a friend who was killing it. At that time it had a runner like a spider plant (complete with a dead baby on the end). It’s never sent out another runner … but it has been adding new growth similar to how an iris would spread. The leaves also grow in a fan shape like an iris. I’ve never seen one like this … most of my family are gardners too and none of them have ever seen anything similar either.

Have any ideas?

Jamie’s Reply: Do you think the dead baby could have been a bloom? If so, it is probably a
Hemerocallis (daylily). Daylilies are hardy in zones 3-9. It will producesrepeat bloom — stella d’oro, happy returns are a few. Hope this helps. Let
me know if you need more info.

Brian responds:

Definitely wasn’t a bloom … the runner was identical to one that a spider plant would have sent out … and the dead baby was a minature version of the parent plant. We did consider the day lily possibility … but ruled that out after comparing to those planted in the garden. Also … the plant is 4 years old and has never bloomed.

Jamie’s Reply: I am a little puzzled as to the identity of the plant. Do you keep it outside or inside? Did you repot it when you got it? Has it put out any more runners since you have had it? Depending on the light conditions, blooming could be inhibited. Could you take another picture — I need a up-close picture of the base. It maybe in the crocosmia family but I need a better look.

Brian Responds:

Attached two shots of the base … and one shot of a top view of the plant.

I’ve repotted it several times since I got it about a year and a half ago. At that time it was a single plant … it now consists of 10 or 12 plants … I also cut off half a dozen and shipped them to friends. They all grew fine with just being stuck in soil and watered.

I keep it outside during the summer … full sun. Last winter I brought it inside, as I did a couple weeks ago this year. It grows fine whether it gets direct sun or indirect … doesn’t die back at all.

It’s never had another runner since I got it. Each new plant that comes up from the base of the original plant grows in a perfect fan shape. The baby I saw on the one runner it did have when I first saw it was also a fan shape … just a miniature version. The new plants that come from the base are considerably larger (from the start) than the growth on the runner was.

brian2.jpg brian3.jpg brain1.jpg

Jamie’s Reply:

I’ve consulted with two other plant experts and this one mistifys us. I’ll throw out a few things we thought it could possibly be — some type of bromeliad or Chlorophytum (the family of spider plants). You might take it to your state extension agent. I’m sorry I could not help.

Brian responds:

I tried the extension office … they were mystified too. A friend of mine is a master gardener from Ohio … she has no idea what it is either. I could ship a cutting to you if you wanted me to … if nothing else you’d have a new plant.

Jamie’s Reply:

I used to be the grower for this greenhouse and I am still in contact with them. I will have him grow it to see if he can identify it. I have one more expert that hasn’t got back to me. Hopefully he will know what it is.

Brain responds:

I’m in Atlanta, GA … do you think the cutting would survive a trip to Arkansas with the colder weather we have now? For the cuttings I shipped this summer I used those hard round mailing tubes … if you have a better idea, let me know.

Jamie’s Reply:

We have cuttings shipped to us every winter. This week and next are going to be warm for us — and a good time to ship cuttings. The mailing tubes are great — just make sure to wrap a moist paper towel around the open end of your cutting. We are only about 90 miles from Memphis TN so Atlanta mail usually only takes three days

Brian responds:

Jamie … ended up being ill over the weekend so I didn’t get the cutting shipped. However, my Mom called me and told me that the cutting I sent her looks like it’s sending out a flower stalk. Why hers would and not the original plant makes it interesting … her growning conditions in Montana are considerably poorer than those here in Georgia. I don’t believe hers has ever been outside … just sits in a window. It’s also a fraction of the size of the one I have.

Jamie’s Reply:

That is interesting. Keep me posted on the bloom. If your mother has the ability to take pictures as the bloom stalk develops have her send them to me. It is not uncommon for the same type of plant to bloom and others not. Things like planting depth or too much nitrogen can inhibit blooming. Some plants need to be in a stressful condition to bloom. There are many factors which can promote or inhibit blooming. If your mothers plant blooms we should be able to identify it. This plant has defintely peak my interest and am as curious about it as you are. You may want to wait till january to sending the cuttings, since the mail system is over loaded at the holidays

Brian responds:

good idea on waiting to ship the cutting … and if the plant is putting out a flower stalk we might even have an idea as to what it is … she did say it looks very similar to the way iris flowers develop …

she does have a camera … she’ll take pictures once it’s a bit larger … it’s kind of hard to see right now.

Jamie’s Reply:

Keep me posted. Does the plant have any form of a bulb attached at the root level?

Brian Responds:

No … you really can’t cover it that much as that would put the soil too far up the leaves … not a true bulb … more like a rhizome

Jamie … here’s a picture of my Mom’s plant … and it’s “bud”. Strange looking thing. When she sent me the pic today I realized I still haven’t sent the cutting to you … I think Alzheimer’s is setting in.brian4.jpg

Jamie’s Reply:

This maybe a species of Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia). There are five species of Stelitzia — four of them have banana leaf shaped foliage — however Strelitzia juncea has foliage consistent with the foliage of your plant. Some botanists think the Strelitzia juncea should be reclassified. When the bloom opens, if it is yellow/orange with blue,then it is a Strelitzia juncea. Keep me posted

Brian Responds:

Jamie … I still haven’t sent the cutting … I’ll probably burn in Hell for that. But the one my Mom has opened up. Never seen anything like it … looks like a cross between an orchid and a lady slipper. 3 pics attached.

brian5.jpg brian6.jpg brian7.jpg

Jamie’s Reply:

Your plant is a Neomarica northiana. It is in the Iris family. It is commonly know as Walking Iris or Apostle Plant. The blooms should be fragrant but short lived. It is the most unusual iris, I have ever seen. Thanks for sticking with me until we could identify it. Please let me know if I can help you with anything else.

Brian Responds:

Thank you for the information, you went way above and beyond what just about anybody would do.