Let’s set the baseline with fresh flowers. Recently picked, green, straight from the growers at the Melbourne markets. Fresh flowers have a short lifespan and ideally need a bit of tender loving care to get the most from them (e.g. regular stem cuts, fresh water, vases kept away from drafts, direct sunshine etc). Too easy.
What are dried flowers?
Dried flowers are those that were originally fresh, but they’ve since had their natural moisture removed. This traditionally happens by hanging the flowers upside in a cool dark space but modern dehydration methods include silica sand or gel and an oven.
Once fully dried, the flowers will have lost their bright colours and become duller as a result of the dehydration process. The foliage and petals become brittle, often shrinking and wrinkling. Any remaining colours will continue to fade as they age further. You are often left with beautiful earthy tones. Dried flowers are delicate but with gentle handling and avoiding direct sunlight and humidity, they can last years (think how long grandma’s pot pourri lasts!).
So what are preserved flowers?
This is the big question. Preserved flowers were also originally fresh, but have since had their natural moisture removed and replaced with glycerol or other unknown chemicals. As a result of this process, preserved flowers generally retain their natural appearance and touch. They are much softer to touch and more flexible in comparison to dried flowers. Preserved flowers can be sensitive to heat, humidity and sunlight, however with minimal care, preserved flowers have a prolonged shelf life and can last anywhere from 1 to 3 years.
Often a dye is included in the chemicals to enhance their colour, so you will find a wider range than what would occur naturally.
In Australia, a lot of preserved flowers are imported from China. I know from handing these flowers that they initially have a strong chemical smell and can irritate your hands and skin. Often the dyes run and can stain clothes so they need to be used with caution (i.e. beware brides with white dresses!). I suspect that preserved flowers won’t biodegrade as well as fresh or dried flowers due to their chemicals, but I’ll need to look further into that. Despite this, preserved flowers are great for allergy sufferers (no pollen!) and require no maintenance, other than keeping out of direct sunlight and the occasional dust.
What do I use?
I use all three types because each offers something unique to a design. There’s a time and place for everything. Dried and preserved flowers tend to be more expensive for a florist to purchase wholesale, as opposed to fresh flowers, largely because of the additional processes required to reach the end product. But the flow on benefit is that you will get a longer lasting design.
So bear all this in mind and I hope this helps you be an educated consumer when you next purchase blooms!