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The Silent Flower Killer: Ethylene Gas

Don’t let your flowers get snuffed out by the silent flower killer!!!

Perhaps that level of melodrama is a bit much, but I take sending beautiful flowers seriously. I recently learned the impact of ethylene gas on flowers. I admit that I learned it the hard way and was very upset by the results. *In my best Bugsy Malone voice* Here’s the scoop, see?

The most attractive, adorable, handsome man in the world gave me flowers for Valentines Day this year. He had purchased a bouquet of daisies and pink carnations. For those who do not know–which can’t be many by now–my favorite flowers are pink carnations. He bought that particular bouquet just because it was the only one available with carnations! But I digress.

Ethylene Gas Is The Silent Flower KillerI stayed in the home of a freight-train-chain smoker that night. Not a puff or two per day, but rather an all-encompassing fog of smoke. (Picture Pigpen from Charlie Brown only surrounded by a cloud of smoke.) That’s the level of ethylene gas that was in the house.

I am not a smoker. My flowers are not fond of the habit either. I had placed them in water with flower preservative, taking great care to trim the stems properly. Everything seemed normal when I fell asleep. However, I woke up the next morning to find my flowers droopy and almost dead! Frantically I questioned who you call when you want 9-1-1 for flowers.

What I did not know at the time was that the silent flower killer that nearly snuffed out MY flowers was ethylene gas. After researching the symptoms that my flowers had, I learned that ethylene gas present near flowers causes earlier disruption of life. This is not to say that smokers kill flowers. Not at all. The ethylene gas in the smoke however does combine with the naturally occurring ethylene gas production in the flowers. This combination is lethal in vast doses only. In smaller amounts, the results are much like what I experienced.

How Ethylene Gas Affects Fresh Flowers

Ethylene gas is a colorless and odorless gas so it’s almost impossible to detect. The symptoms of ethylene gas poisoning in flowers are much like those of over-watering or a lack of moisture. They are:

  • Wilted flowers
  • Petal drop
  • Leaf drop
  • Leaf browning
  • Failure to open

What Produces Ethylene Gas?

We all want to receive healthy, lively flowers. There are many things that florists can do to prevent these symptoms from occurring in their flower arrangements. First, avoid exposing flowers to these producers of ethylene gas:

  • Ripening fruit – keep lunch bags containing fresh fruit in a separate cooler;
  • Cigarette smoke – ask patrons and employees to step outside for a puff
  • Combustible engine exhaust – load delivery vans from the side or with the engine off if from back
  • Excessive vibration during shipping – make sure arrangements are securely placed in delivery van

How to Keep Flowers Away From Ethylene Gas

There are also many things that flower recipients can do to keep ethylene gas from ruining their morning like it did mine.

  • Ripening fruit – do not keep flowers near an open bowl of fresh fruit.
  • Cigarette smoke – while a few cigarettes a day will not kill flowers overnight, avoid smoking near the bouquet.
  • Combustible engine exhaust – avoid holding flowers near the back of a running engine

Have a story about the first time this happened to you? Know other ways to prevent ethylene exposure from killing flowers? Feel free to share! We welcome your conversation.

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