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14 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Florists

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Florists know all about caring for and arranging a variety of flowers, but they do more than put pretty flowers into a nice vase. After talking to a few, we got the dirt on the job, including how they find the best blooms, which household fruits are the enemy of long-lasting bouquets, and why the holidays make their feet ache.

1. THEY’RE (VERY) EARLY RISERS.

Being a florist means getting to work early, as the team at Miami Gardens Florist tells mental_floss: “You have to be in by 7 a.m. so that the first batch of flowers is ready for delivery by 9 a.m., when most businesses start to open.” Florists use those early morning hours to cut and process flowers, organize orders that came in overnight, and prioritize which arrangements to work on first. And when they buy flowers at wholesale flower markets, some florists wake up even earlier—around 3 or 4 a.m.—to find the best flowers at the market before they sell out.

2. FINDING THE RIGHT FLOWERS CAN BE INCREDIBLY TIME-CONSUMING.

To assemble complex floral arrangements and mixed bouquets, florists typically need to search for flowers and plants from a variety of sources. Depending on their clients’ wishes and what flowers are in season, florists may purchase directly from local farms, wholesalers, or flower auctions. Some florists even grow their own flowers or import them from countries such as Holland or Colombia.

3. FLOWERS ARE HEAVIER THAN THEY LOOK.

“Being a florist is a lot more labor-intensive than most would assume,” says Lauren Ghani, the owner of Nu Leaf Design, a floral design shop in Los Angeles. “We have to pick up and transport all the flowers, clean and process them (which can take hours of being on your feet!), decide on a design, and then clean up the extensive amount of leaves and debris,” Ghani explains. Florists must also have strong arm and leg muscles to unpack large shipments of plants, lift heavy buckets of water, and arrange large branches and other foliage for display.

4. TIMING IS EVERYTHING.

Because flowers only last so long before they wilt and die, florists are in a perpetual race against the clock. They must properly time purchases and deliveries, making sure that buds have bloomed by the time they arrive at a client’s door. To speed up or slow down the blooming process, florists use a variety of tricks. They may condition flowers (get them ready for display) by cutting or splitting the stems (trimming them at a 45-degree angle increases the surface area for water absorption) or dunking the blooms in cold water. Storing the blooms away from direct sunlight is also key. To ensure that flowers for weddings look fresh and open, Ghani keeps them in a refrigerated environment and makes the centerpieces the day before the event.

5. HOLIDAYS ARE HARD ON THEIR FEET.

Because flowers are perishable, florists can’t get too much of a head start on making arrangements for high-volume days such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. “During our high seasons, every flower shop becomes a factory where all we're doing is trying to get as many arrangements out as possible,” the Miami Gardens Florist team explains. Although most florists find working with flowers to be generally relaxing, holidays require them to stand on their feet for eight to 12 hours per day, often for several days in a row.

6. ALLERGY MEDS ARE THEIR SECRET WEAPON.

If flowers are your life’s work, daily sneezing fits and a constantly itchy nose aren’t ideal. While most florists don’t have a problem, some, unfortunately, are allergic to pollen and plants. How do they cope? Some take daily allergy meds, get allergy shots from their doctor, or try to avoid working with especially problematic flowers. For most, the benefits of the job outweigh the sneezing.

7. THEY WISH CUSTOMERS WOULD TAKE BETTER CARE OF CUT FLOWERS.

If you lament that your bouquets only last a few days, educate yourself about how to properly care for flowers. Florist Brad Weinstein told mental_floss that water is key to helping flowers last longer. “Remember that the more flowers in the arrangement, the need for water will increase,” he said.

To give your cut flowers a long life, check the water level daily, use the packet of powdered flower food that came with your bouquet, and make sure you put your flowers in a clean vase. And don’t forget to keep your flowers away from direct sunlight, heat, and fruit—the ethylene gas that apples and pears emit can cause your flowers to quickly wilt.

8. SUMMER IS THE BEST TIME TO BUY FROM THEM.

Although people might primarily associate buying flowers with Valentine’s Day, February isn’t the ideal time to shop for blooms. The best time to order from a florist is during the summer months. According to the Miami Gardens Florist team: “They’ll have fresher flowers, they’ll be able to take their time to make something beautiful, and you’re more likely to get a discount.” Good news for anyone with a summer birthday.

9. THEY MAY USE FLOWERS IN THE KITCHEN.

Besides looking pretty in a vase, flowers can be used in your kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom. Florists may use flowers (such as chamomile or hibiscus) to make flower tea, add dried flowers to oil to make soap, or use pressed flowers to decorate homemade candles. Some florists who enjoy cooking also substitute tulips for onions in certain recipes, such as stews and pastas, and garnish dishes with chopped (edible, pesticide-free) petals.

10. THE MARKUP THEY CHARGE IS WORTH IT.

Depending on where you live, you may be able to buy discounted flowers at a wholesale flower market. If you buy flowers from a florist, though, the flowers may be marked up 2.5 to 3.5 times what they really cost. Florists say that markup is there for good reason. “In all honesty, the prices are justified. You’re receiving a work of art that takes a lot of hard work and effort,” the Miami Gardens Florist team says. Besides labor and time, the price you pay a florist may also include ribbons and other accessories, a vase, and delivery.

11. THEY DEAL WITH MORE THAN JUST FLOWERS.

Most florists don’t focus solely on making flower arrangements. They also take orders over the phone, answer customer questions, and make sales. If a florist owns their own shop, they must also hire employees, fill out tax paperwork, and manage the store's finances. Some florists also branch out (pun intended) by teaching flower-crafting classes, working with wedding planners or interior designers, and writing articles or books about flower care and arrangement.

12. MARTHA STEWART IS A POLARIZING FIGURE.

Ron Mulray, who owns the Philadelphia Flower Co., told the Philadelphia Inquirer that Martha Stewart is a polarizing figure in the flower world. In the 1990s, Stewart began educating people about flowers, teaching her audience how to design their own beautiful floral arrangements. According to Mulray, floral designers took firm pro- or anti-Stewart positions, with some florists praising her for promoting flowers as an art form and others criticizing her for revealing florists’ trade secrets to the masses.

But whether they love her or hate her, florists admit that Stewart exposed people to the simple joy of flowers. “We could never sell 36 open roses in a hand-tied bouquet before Martha. That was really what she did,” Mulray says.

13. THEY GET TO PARTAKE IN YOUR EMOTIONAL MILESTONES.

Whether they arrange and deliver flowers for weddings, funerals, births, anniversaries, or proms, florists often work with clients who are emotional about recent (or imminent) life changes. And florists aren't immune to the impact—conscious or subconscious—of the heightened emotions surrounding weddings and funerals. One florist writes about how creating floral arrangements for a funeral sparked a recurring dream: “In the dream, I woke up the woman that died to ask her if she liked the flowers. Her answer was no. She informed me that she had always hated flowers … I remember feeling silly and spooked at the same time.”

14. MOTHER NATURE DELIGHTS THEM.

Many florists are drawn to their profession because they simply love flowers. “Flowers are nature’s art. They’re beautiful, strange, and each one is so different,” the Miami Gardens Florist team says. And working with flowers is an artistic outlet that lets florists express their creativity, working with a variety of colors, heights, textures, and scents. “I love working with flowers because with every season comes a different palette of colors as well as types of flowers …The creativity associated with flowers is part of what keeps me intrigued and excited about my work!” Ghani says.

All photos via iStock.

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10 Fascinating Facts About Corpse Flowers

Big, smelly, rare, phallic—these adjectives all describe Amorphophallus titanum, commonly known as the corpse flower. While native to western Indonesia, the plant is currently taking Washington, D.C. by smelly storm: The last of three—count 'em, three—corpse flowers to bloom this summer began its stinky blossoming this week at the United States Botanic Garden. In honor of the occasion, here's some trivia to celebrate one of nature's stinkiest plants.

1. THE CORPSE FLOWER'S LATIN NAME IS NSFW (OR BRITISH TV).

No, it's not just you: Amorphophallus titanum really does look like a large, lumpy penis. In fact, the plant gets its scientific name from three roots: amorphos (without form), phallos (penis), and titanum (giant).

Can't say the plant's Latin name in polite company without blushing? Thanks to David Attenborough, the English naturalist and TV personality, you can also opt to use its common name, Titan arum. While narrating BBC nature documentary series "The Private Life of Plants," Attenborough thought the corpse flower's proper name was too improper to say on TV, so he coined a less-scandalous moniker. Or, you could simply go with its Indonesian name, bunga bangkai.

2. A 19TH-CENTURY ITALIAN BOTANIST 'DISCOVERED' THE CORPSE FLOWER.

Western scientists first learned of Amorphophallus titanum in 1878, when Italian botanist Odoardo Beccari came across the enormous plant growing in the rainforests of Sumatra, a large island in western Indonesia. The specimen he recorded had a circumference of around 5 feet, and its height was around 10 feet.

Beccari tried to ship the flowering shrub's corms, or giant underground tubers, back to Europe, but French customs ended up holding them under an order designed to prevent the spread of the grapevine pest Phylloxera. Still, a few seeds survived against the odds, and a single seedling was sent to the Kew Botanic Gardens in England, where Beccari had once studied. There, it flowered in 1889. In 1926, when the same corpse flower bloomed again, the crowds were so large that police were brought in to control them.

3. THE CORPSE FLOWER GROSSED OUT THE ENGLISH (IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE).

Not surprisingly, the corpse flower quickly gained notoriety in Europe: An English artist hired to illustrate the plant is said to have become ill from the odor, and governesses forbade young ladies from looking at it, for obvious reasons.

4. A CORPSE FLOWER ISN'T REALLY A SINGLE FLOWER.

Technically, a corpse flower isn't a single flower; it's a flowering plant with clusters of blooms. The plant consists of a thick central spike, known as a spadix, with a base that's encircled by two rings of "male" and "female" flowers. A large, frilly leaf called a spathe envelops these flowers to protect them.

5. CORPSE FLOWERS ARE, AS THEIR LATIN NAME SUGGESTS, ENORMOUS.

Aside from its smell, a corpse flower's most noticeable quality is its sheer size. The plant holds the record for the world's largest unbranched inflorescence (a fancy term for describing a floral structure made of many smaller individual flowers), and it can reach heights of up to 12 feet in the wild. Cultivated corpse flowers are smaller, measuring anywhere from 6 to 8 feet.

6. THEY DON'T HAVE AN ANNUAL BLOOMING CYCLE.

Years, or even decades, can pass before a corpse flower reaches peak bloom. As the big moment finally approaches, the plant's bud grows several inches per day before slowing down its growth. Two protective leaves, called bracts, shrivel and fall off the spathe's base. Then, the spathe unfurls over roughly 24 to 36 hours, giving curious onlookers just a small window to see (and smell) its maroon-colored insides for themselves.

7. THERE'S SCIENCE BEHIND THE CORPSE FLOWER'S TERRIBLE SMELL.

When a corpse flower blooms, the spadix heats up to temperatures of up to 98°F as the plant unleashes a stench akin to rotting flesh. "Those pulses of heat cause the air to rise, like a chimney effect," Ray Mims, a spokesperson for the U.S. Botanic Garden, explained to Washingtonian magazine. "It gets the stench up in the air" to attract pollinating dung beetles and carrion beetles, who are drawn to the scent of rotting flesh.

Experts have identified different molecules responsible for titan arum's stink, including dimethyl trisulfide (like limburger cheese), trimethylamine (rotting fish), and isovaleric acid (sweaty socks).

8. CORPSE FLOWERS GROW FRUIT WHEN THEY'RE POLLINATED.

Once a corpse flower finishes blooming, it doesn't die. The spathe withers and collapses after a few days, and if pollinated, the plant soon produces hundreds of small, golden-colored fruits. These berry-like seeds are eaten and dispersed by animals such as birds and the rhinoceros hornbill, or harvested in captivity by garden conservation scientists. (No word on how they taste, as they're reportedly not suitable for human consumption.)

Once the seeds ripen from gold to dark orange, and then to dark red—a stage that lasts for five or six months—the corpse flower goes dormant. Then, it sprouts as a tree-like leaf during its next few life cycles as it stores away energy from the sun. Each cycle, the leaf grows bigger and bigger, before dying. Once the plant's corm is fully replenished, it finally blooms again.

9. THE CORPSE FLOWER WAS ONCE THE BRONX'S OFFICIAL FLOWER.

In 1937, the New York Botanical Garden became the proud home of America's first recorded corpse flower bloom. Two years later, yet another flower bloomed in the Bronx garden. Borough president James J. Lyons was so tickled, he designated Amorphophallus titanum as the Bronx's official flower. ''Its tremendous size shall be symbolic of the fastest-growing borough in the City of New York,'' Lyons said, according to The New York Times. Meanwhile, news crews covering the event are said to have nearly fainted from the smell.

The Bronx used the corpse flower as a symbol until 2000, when then-borough president Fernando Ferrer, aiming to overhaul the municipality's image, changed its official flower to the day lily. "I hate to think of the corpse flower as the Bronx flower, because people would think the Bronx and think, 'The Bronx stinks,'" Michael Ruggiero, then senior curator for horticulture at the New York Botanical Garden, told the Times. "The Bronx is a people place, and the corpse flower is not a people plant. The day lily is, and therefore is a good fit for the Bronx."

10. THE CORPSE FLOWER IS THREATENED BY HABITAT LOSS.

Corpse flowers aren't just rare—they're also vulnerable to habitat loss and destruction, as vast swaths of Sumatra's rainforests are chopped down for timber and to clear ground for oil palm plantations. According to one estimate provided by the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, Indonesia has now lost around 72 percent of its original rainforest cover. This contributes to the flower's demise, and also threatens important pollinators like the rhinoceros hornbill.

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Naonobu Noda/NARO
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Japanese Scientists Engineer 'True Blue' Chrysanthemums
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Naonobu Noda/NARO

The land of the square watermelon has done it again: Japanese scientists have created the world's first blue chrysanthemums. They described their process and results in the journal Science Advances.

Nature doesn't make a whole lot of blue things. Out of the 280,000 species of flowering plants on Earth, less than 10 percent make blue flowers. But these are hipster flowers, flying low under the public radar. There's no real market for them. Blue roses, carnations, lilies, or chrysanthemums, though: now those are products florists could take to the bank.

Or they could, if scientists could get them to work. Flower experts have been trying to breed blue flowers for centuries, to no avail. The horticultural societies of Britain and Belgium even put up a cash prize in the 1800s for the first person to breed a true blue rose. Nobody won.

But bioengineering is a lot more sophisticated than it used to be. Today's plant experts can tinker with an organism's genetic code to coax it into doing things nature never intended it to do. By 2005, scientists sponsored by the Japanese company Suntory had that blue rose—although "blue" may be a generous term.

Next up for researchers was the chrysanthemum, a species that may be even more significant than the rose in Japan. Chrysanthemums are everywhere there, appearing on coins, passports, clothing, and art. They symbolize autumn, but also the monarchy, the imperial throne, and the nation of Japan itself. Making a blue mum would be a huge cultural achievement (not to mention a potential goldmine).

Researchers from Suntory and Japan's National Agriculture and Food Research Organization decided to swipe a few tricks from two preexisting blue flower species, Canterbury bells and the butterfly pea. Both species owe their color to pigments called anthocyanins. These pigments appear in chrysanthemums, too, but a slightly different molecular structure means that they make red and purple petals, not blue ones.

By swiping multiple genes from the two blue species and adding them to the mum's genetic blueprint, the scientists were able to reshape the chrysanthemum anthocyanins to make what botanists call "true blue."

Blue color swatches among blue chrysanthemum flowers.
Naonobu Noda / NARO

Once again, "blue" may be a generous term.

"Their flowers are like a cool lavender at best," artist and biohacker Sebastian Cocioba, who is trying to genetically engineer a blue rose, told Gizmodo. "I could never feel comfortable calling that blue."

The researchers acknowledge that they've got more work to do, and say they have ideas for how to create a bluer flower. "However," lead author Naonobu Noda noted to Gizmodo, "as there is no [single] gene to realize it, it may be difficult."

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