In these modern days of plastic and metals, many people still prefer decorations and materials made from the “real thing”. These include dried ornamental materials such as flowers, petals and foliage that are skillfully treated and arranged into beautiful greeting cards, wall frames, bookmarks, to table decorations and floral displays.

This concept of using dried plant materials, which are known for their long-term beauty and elegance has given hobbyist and entrepreneurs a new, exciting, and profitable ornamental business.

In other countries, the dried flowers industry is quickly developing and gathering demands among clients who prefer the natural look in their homes. Dried flowers also offer a value-added opportunity for producers who supply raw materials to floral wholesalers, retail florists and craft retailers.

Here in the Philippines, the dried flower business is still new but the possibility of developing this sector is great since our country has a vast indigenous and exotic plant resource. Recent statistics from the Bureau of Import Services of the Department of Trade and Industry show that the export share of cutflowers and flower buds used for bouquets and dried ornamentals was 16.7% in 1997. This was larger than fresh ornamental exports of 11.8%. Potential markets for our dried flowers include Japan, Taiwan, and some European countries- the global leaders in export demand for dry materials.

Why dry?

There are many reasons for drying plant materials and one of them is the abundance of available materials. It is estimated that about 80% of flower species can be dried and preserved successfully. Plants that are best for drying are marigolds, zinnias, roses, daisies, asters, cosmos, and several ornamental grasses and foliage. Drying is also cheap and easy to do. Sophisticated training and expensive equipment are not needed to come up with variety of designs.

Unlike fresh flowers that easily lose their marketable value and quality, dried ornamentals offer longer periods of sale if properly preserved, packaged, and handled.

Another unique characteristic of dried ornamental is their versatility. They can be arranged into different crafts according to one’s preferred style, design, and use.

How to dry?

With the onset of new and varied creative designs, more advanced drying and preserving techniques were also developed. The latest approach to dried flower crafts is focused more on maintaining the color, shape, and texture to create a strong aesthetic impact.

Aside from knowing the kind of drying technique appropriate for a given plant material, also consider the quality of materials to be dried. Florists recommend that the best time to gather flowers for drying is right before they bloom, preferably during dry weather. This is to minimize the amount of moisture present in plants that may trigger early decomposition.

These are the four general methods of drying that can be used to suit the individual requirements of plant materials.

  • Air-drying

Commonly referred to as the “hand and dry” method, air-drying is the oldest and easiest drying technique. There is no special equipment needed, since the stems of flowers and foliage are just tied and hung upside down in a warm, dry, and dark place with good air circulation. Though it is the simplest, it is also one of the longest drying methods. It usually takes three to four weeks for the flowers to dry completely. Once dried, flowers are then sprayed with hair spray or clear varnish to retain their form and give them shine. With this process, however, the products tend to lose their original color.

  • Pressing

Pressing is another simple way to remove all the moisture in the plant materials. Though this is the most practical way to prevent decay in the materials, this method is not applied to multi-petalled flowers such as rose and daisies.

The common practice is to place the flowers between the pages of unglazed paper such as old newsprints and telephone books and weigh down with a heavy object. Pressed materials tend to lose their two-dimensional form yet the change in color adds to their beauty and style. Flowers with yellow tones retain their colors extremely well and the hue becomes richer, while the blue ones normally retain their color after pressing.

  • Using desiccants and silica gel

For the purpose of retaining the material’s color and vibrancy, desiccants are preferred. Among the desiccants, silica gel is found to be the best medium to quickly absorb the moisture from the flowers. Flowers normally take 3-6 days to completely dry, but the materials tend to re-absorb moisture if they are not stored in sealed containers.

When using desiccants, always consider the proper procedure and application. Carefully cover the flowers with desiccants to maintain their form. To cover a flower, pour about an inch of desiccating material in the container. Cut the flower stem to about half an inch and stick this into the center of the desiccant to hold the flower. Pour remaining desiccating material along the perimeter of the container, while avoiding the flower. Gently tap the container to make the desiccating materials cover the entire flower.

Silica gel is quite expensive but it can be used repeatedly. Simply heat the used silica gel in an oven until its pink color turns to blue.

  • Using glycerin

Another way of preserving plant materials is using glycerine solution, a liquid and fatty substance used in making soap. The make the solution, mix one part glycerine to two parts of very hot water. This method is best for ornamental grasses and foliage. Simply cut the desired foliage and grasses to a length of no more than 18 inches. Remove the bark-like structure attached to the foliage before soaking. Split the bottom of the stems and put them into 4 inches glycerine solution. Another way of doing this is by laying the individual leaves into a glass or plastic container. Pour the glycerine solution over the leaves, while making sure that the surface of the leaves is completely covered. Secure the container with a plastic wrap and store them in a cool and dry place. Remove the materials from the solution when the color starts to change and the leaves become supple.

With notes from Dr. Corazon Azucena, Ornamentals RDE Network, Los Banos, College, Laguna. Tel. No. (049) 536-2444.

By: Mary Charlotte O. Fresco, BAR Digest, April-June 2002 Issue (Vol. 4 No.2)