Bleached, Preserved, and Painted Flowers

Bleached, preserved, and painted flowers are having a HUGE moment in the floral world. Snowy white blooms, vibrant pops of color reminiscent of the 80’s, it’s all very couture looking. Until you see bleached, preserved, and painted flowers in person.

Why are bleached and Preserved flowers bad?

There’s something really unsettling about opening a box of flowers: expecting to be greeted by the sweet scent of the garden and instead you’re instead hit with the caustic scent of toilet bowl cleaner.

Because ultimately the ingredients are the same: bleach and color.

The texture of bleached flowers is also very strange. The flowers must be, obviously, bleached, but the bleach also disintegrates natural material. That means the floral has to be pumped full of additional chemicals to keep it from falling apart. The result is a waxy-plasticky-sometimes-slightly-powered texture that isn’t remotely floral at all.

As the Sustainable Floristry Network puts it, these blooms are, “just like a head of state embalmed for eternal display.”

Grossed out yet?

Yeah, me too. And I’ve touched the stuff.

What’s the difference between bleached, preserved, and painted flowers?

Bleached Flowers – Floral or greenery that has been bleached and stabilize to achieve a snowy white color. The floral or greenery is killed in this process.

Preserved Flowers – Also marketed as “Infinity” “everlasting” or “Eternity” This is floral or greenery that has been bleached, chemically manipulated and had color re-injected to create an “everlasting” floral product. The floral or greenery is killed during this process.

Painted Flowers – Floral that have been painted, usually with specaility spray paint to alter or enhance their color. The floral remains alive at the end of this process.

Aren’t “everlasting” or “Eternity” Flowers Real?

            These floral products are made starting with a real flower or piece of greenery. But by the end of the preservation process the product is now dead, and it’s structure held together with chemicals to maintain it’s shape and color.

I thought “everlasting” or “Eternity” Flowers were Eco-Friendly?

            These terms are just marketing spin for preserved blooms. The chemical process is the same, and they are only “eco-friendly” if the definition of eco-friendly is languishing at the back of your closet until you throw them away. That’s it. It’s a marketing term made to make you feel better about spending a ridiculous amount of money on dead flowers.

My Spray Painted Flowers Story

            It was a cold November weekend and my carnations were the wrong color. They were supposed to be a dusky dijon yellow and instead they were highlighter yellow.

Already overbudget on flower ordering due to supply shortages, and short manpower due to COVID, I was stuck with 32 centerpieces to design in a matter of hours with not enough flowers in the right color to fill them.

            In a panic I texted a fellow florist if they had floral paint. They did, and so I sprayed the heck out of those carnations. The color was… meh. The smell? I should have worn a respirator (I was outside, but still).

Ultimately, I made a second panic text to my local farmer for literally ANYTHING she had. By 7PM I had enough flowers and by 2AM I finished the centerpieces.

            In the end, I didn’t (and couldn’t) put those carnations into my designs. Despite being the right color– they just looked wrong. Not to mention were still off-gassing paint fumes. Those carnations ended up in the trash.

            This was an eye-opening lesson. I was able to achieve the perfect “mustard” color carnation. But the cost was too great, and ultimately, the final product looked cheap and contrived when paired with the last of my growers’ dahlias.

Why your florist should not use bleached, Preserved, or painted flowers

 It creates trash were there was none. By adding chemicals and colors to flowers, instead of composting those blooms when their life cycle is done, they instead have to be thrown in the trash.

Why create more waste?

The chemicals involved with all of these methods are obviously harmful to the environment. And they’re harmful to everyone who touches them.

Those bleached flowers I got in the studio the one time? With a single touch I had a chemical reaction on my hands. Do you want the same to happen to you on your wedding day? When your photographer asks you to “smell your bouquet!” do you really want to smell chemicals?

 Big picture, these types of floral products also promote lazy design work. Instead of seeking out new varieties, or suggesting a color palette based on season and context, the easy answer is to get in something artificial, or paint something generic.

 Your designer should be just that, a designer that can think outside the box, and work with the medium nature has already provided. If they can’t do that, I would respectfully suggest that some additional work is needed to hone their floristry skills so they are able to create with the medium they have chosen. Nature has already determined the boundaries, and our job is to design creatively within those bounds.

While this installation used 90% local product, it also had some bleached and preserved product. Can you spot it?

Real life Example:

This photo above is an example of where I designed using 90% local product. And added preserved product because I didn’t want to have a difficult conversation with my client. Instead, I used preserved copper beech and bleached ruscus because that’s what was on her mood board. If I was doing this installation today I would have eliminated those elements and used other ingredients.

This is really important – admitting what ultimately was a good design, but could have been more successful from a sustainability standpoint. Is your florist willing to show you what they would do differently?

What to ask your florist

Do you plan to use bleached, preserved, or painted flowers at my wedding?

If so, what are some seasonal alternatives?

 If there is no alternative, what is in season that you would recommend?

 Does this mean we may need to adjust the color palette?

If your florist is unwilling to work with you to eliminate bleached, preserved, or painted floral from your event, we’d recommend finding a florist who will work with you to make your day as sustainable as possible.

Did you know?

As of January 2022 our studio no longer will use bleached, preserved, or painted floral in any of our work.

We do have a few stems that remain in our studio, and these will be used exclusively for educational purposes.

LEFT: Bridesmaids bouquets made of 100% locally grown floral material. No need for bleached, preserved or painted blooms to achieve this popular tan and terracotta palette!

Additional Resources

Sustainable Floristry Network

Amy Stewart – Flower Confidential: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful

Australia – Standards for bleaching plant product

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