Cut flowers are parts of plants, characteristically including the blooms or “inflorescences” and some attached plant materials, but not including roots and soil. Fresh cut flowers are highly perishable because they maintain only limited life-supporting processes by taking water up through their stems. Fresh cut flowers are used for decorative purposes such as vase arrangements and bouquets at formal events; designs for weddings and funerals; gifts on occasions such as Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, in times of illness, and at holidays such as Christmas and Easter; corsages and boutonnieres; and informal displays to beautify homes and public places.
Preserved flowers are fresh cut flowers that have been dehydrated, preserved with a chemical solution and then air- or oven-dried. They may be used in boutonnieres, corsages, wreaths, formal and informal displays, and similar ornamental articles. Preserved flowers, known in the industry as “everlasting flowers” or “everlastings,” are not as perishable as fresh cut flowers.
Grading of cut flowers is done to ensure consistent standards. Stems are generally graded by stem length (18 to 24 inches for most flower types) and are downgraded for short or broken stems, poor flower condition, poor foliage condition, or old flowers. Sorting machines are able to grade flowers by length of stem, however, all other factors are still determined by human decision-making. The flower buds are wrapped in cone-shaped plastic sleeves to prevent damage. Stems are then tied together with string and parchment, or waxed paper is wrapped around the heads for protection.
Market prices for cut flowers are sensitive to demand as well as supply conditions. Although there has been some shift from retailer dependence on holiday promotions to year-round sales, prices for cut flowers tend to be high around certain holidays when demand peaks. Supplies are determined by growers’ strategic planting and pinching schedules as well as the weather. When peak production does not coincide with peak demand, prices fluctuate. Certain physical characteristics, such as stem length, color, appearance, and freshness, are also important in establishing prices for cut flowers.