A Guide To Some Basic Flower Types
Sorry, no witty title today.
There is an endless number of flower varieties, so this truly is an “if you can think it you can find it” area. However, not every flower variety lends itself well to being handled much, so some work better than others when it comes to bouquets or being kept in vases. This is by no means a complete list (or even a respectable drop in the bucket), but here are some of the flowers seen in weddings to get you started.
Roses – The most classic, and obvious, choice of flower. Roses naturally come in shades of red, pink, white, cream, and orange, but are also relatively easily dyed to achieve other colors. Roses are not expensive, but they’re not cheap either. They fall along the mid range of costs, with the exception of around Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day when the price skyrockets. Dyed roses are more expensive than regular roses, and some florists will refuse to attempt to dye them as it can take a long time for the color to catch. The garden varieties are fluffier and look a good deal like peonies.
Hydrangeas – Hydrangeas come in pastel blues, purples, pinks, greens, and shades of white. They are often used as a base for bouquets due to their volume, but are also used on their own as main features in both centerpieces and bouquets. The stem is stick-like, so it does not retain water well and it is easy for the flower to dehydrate and start to wilt. If you choose to use hydrangeas, keep them in water as much as possible. If you are DIY-ing anything with hydrangeas, lightly mist the heads will cool water every couple of hours once you receive them up to when they are leaving for their final destination. They are on the more expensive side, however because of their large heads they take up as much space as several stems of smaller, less expensive flowers, so they partially make up their cost.
Carnations – Carnations have earned a bad rap as cheesy, but they really are fantastic flowers and are still a dominating force in wedding flowers. The naturally come in shades ranging from white to red (with all the yellows and oranges in between), but can also be easily dyed to any other color you can come up with. They’re a stable bloom in that they don’t need a ton of water when cut, so they’re a popular choice for bouquets. The petals themselves are sturdy, so they are often used for flower wiring (where a new flower is essentially constructed out of wire and petals from another flower). I’ve seen great mock-peonies come out of carnations before. They’re one of the cheapest flower options available, even around Valentine’s Day.
Tulips – There are actually a large variety of tulips (Dutch, French, Parrot, etc), but they all have the same basic shape. Made of a few large, thick petals, tulips have very defined shapes and are among the most structured flower options. The colors are crisp, but generally light. All varieites are typically available from November – May. Dutch tulips are on the cheaper side (more expensive than carnations but cheaper than roses generally), but the rest of the varieties usually rival hydrangeas in terms of cost. If you’re DIY-ing, tulips will actually continue to grow after they’re cut; cut them a bit shorter than you want them to be.
Delphinium – Also called Larkspur, this is a tall, narrow spire type flower with clustered florets. While usually seen in deep purple, they are also available in white, pink, lavendar, and blue. These are pretty common in centerpieces since they easily add height due to their shape, but florets will survive a small period of time if you want to dismantle one to make something like a hair wreath or have something a little different for the flower girl to drop. Centerpiece bonus: they’re unscented. They are moderate in cost and cheapest in their peak season of summer to early fall, but they are available year round.
Calla Lilies – A single, large petal wraps around the stem and forms a tear drop shape when viewed from above. These are classic wedding flowers. They come in whites, greens, oranges, pinks, and purples. This is probably the most defined-shape flower there is. They are available year round, but the peak season is around winter to late spring. These are also one of the most expensive flower choices. They have a miniature version, which is not only a bit cheaper, but can also be easier to work with. Brides who like the idea of a single stem “bouquet” for themselves or their bridesmaids tend to drift towards doing a single large calla lily.
Freesia – Freesia is a sweet smelling flower available year round. It comes in some shade of every color, with the exception of blue. The stems are sturdy, so they hold water well, but the flowers themselves are delicate and have a precarious hold on the stem. Because the fragrance is so strong, it’s best to keep them out of centerpieces and to not overuse them in bouquets. These are pretty mid-range as far as pricing is concerned.
Anemones – A cousin of the peony and ranunculus, anemones come in few color, but they are pure and saturated. They are unscented and come in white, pink, purple, magenta, and burgundy and always have black centers. They are in season November thru May, peaking in spring. Anemones are relatively sturdy and can be used easily in bouquets without too much trouble. Pricing wise they are at the high end of the middle ground.
Chrysanthemums– These are great if you like the idea of a daisy, but want some color without resorting to dyes. There aren’t a ton of color choices, but it’s more than a plain daisy. It has a very similar shape and is one of the cheapest blooms out there. They tend to have a strong scent, so beware using these in centerpieces. They work best in groups rather than individually, and are available year round (peak season is late summer through fall). There are also a ton of other subsets of chrysanthemums that have very different shapes, like spider, football, and pom.
Ranunculus – A very fluffy type of flower, ranunculus is a relatively small bloom (average head size is 2 inches) that has a large number of petals. These are often used as a cheaper substitute for their much more expensive rose and peony counterparts (though they aren’t exactly dirt cheap themselves either). They are typically in season November thru April, though they have been known to bloom as early as the beginning of October. They don’t dye well, and are limited to whites, yellows, oranges, and pinks. These are common in both bouquets and centerpieces, and are a staple in fall weddings.
Dahlias – This is a bushy, yet defined flower with tube-like petals. It has a subtle scent that has an almost spiced quality to it. They are relatively cheap, but have a limited availability (midsummer thru early fall) as they are very sensitive to low temperatures. They come in white, yellow, orange, pink, red, and purple. This is another flower that has a couple varieties, and the variety will dictate the size of the bloom. Dinner plate dahlias stay true to their name and are on the order of 8″ across, sometimes larger.
Peonies – These are lush, aromatic flowers that are gorgeous for weddings. They are available in white (usually with dashed of pink on the tips; true white is hard to comeby), cream, pink, peach, and purple. They are in season domestically only in the spring, but can be imported in the fall and winter (for a much higher price of course). Summer is the only time it is truly difficult (or impossible) to get them. The imported versions for some reason tend to be scentless, so they’re easier to incorporate into centerpieces. The domestic version tends to have a strong scent, so no matter how pleasant it does make using large groups of them a tad difficult.
Alstroemeria – One of the most versatile year-round flowers, they are also referred to as “Peruvian Lillies”. Alstroemeria is usually a filler but is pretty enough to be used as a main flower. They come in a LARGE color range of colors, but can easily be dyed if you need a color that isn’t usually available (like blue). The petals are flecked with a much darker version of whatever color they are and usually have a small streak of yellow. Alstroemeria is essentially scentless. They are relatively cheap, and quite sturdy (average vase life is on the order of 8 days).
Stephanotis – This is one of the flowers that is “expected” and commonly associated with weddings. If you are looking for tradition, this flower is a must. This white flower actually grows on a vine in clusters, so it must be wired or placed in a special holder before it can be used in bouquets or boutonnieres. The star-shaped petals are waxy, so they retain water well and survive quite nicely after they’re cut. They are available year round, but because of the care that has to go into maintaining and preparing them they can be a bit pricey. It is common to see small pearl pins (or other pins with small details) inserted through the hollow middle to add more interest.
Phlox – This is a small, delicate, bush type flower that is great for centerpieces (it bruises easily, so use in bouquets is generally not recommended, though it can be done). Overall they don’t have much of a scent, however some varieties actually release a scent at night, providing a nice segue into the evening. Though it is most commonly seen in purple, it comes in white, orange, pink, and red varieties (it won’t take dye). It has a mild scent and is typically available June – November. These run the middle ground in pricing.
Lisianthus – This is a soft looking flower that actually stands up really well to abuse (i.e. great for bouquets). It consists of a few large petals and has a wispy feel to it. It comes in shades of white, pink, purple, and green, and also has a few bi-color varieties. This is another rose-replacement stem, though it is not as full and has several blooms per stem. It does not typically have a scent, but one is noticeable if you have a large concentration of the flower in one spot (i.e. be careful using these in large bunches for centerpieces). They fall in the middle of the price range and are available year round.
Orchids – There are a number of varieites of orchids, each with a slightly different shape. The waxy, hardy petals and stems mean they’ll last a long time after being cut, so they’re great for everything from bouquets to hair accessories to boutonnieres. The pricing varies across varieties, but dendrobium orchids are usually the cheapest. Each variety naturally comes in it’s own range of colors, but many can be dyed to achieve your ideal color as well (dendrobiums take on blue dye really, really well). The most commonly used varieties are dendrobium (usually what leis are made of; very light scent), cymbidium (naturally green), oncidium (also called spray orchids, they come on long branches), phalaenopsis (very popular; usually the variety you see in pots at stores), and vandas (deeply saturated purple summer orchid).
Gerbera Daisies – These come in literally 350 shades, so chances are you can find exactly what hue you’re looking for. These have the defined center of a traditional daisy, and the same petal shape, but the number of petals present has been multiplied by some outrageous number. They are rather large in size (although there is a mini variety), and most are geometrically perfect. They are on the cheaper side of mid-range pricing and are good for pops of intense color, and cover a lot of surface area but don’t fill a lot of volume.
Okay, that was a LOT of flowers. I obviously didn’t even cover a respectable fraction, but these are good starting points. If you’re DIY-ing flowers, the two most recommended websites (if you’re not getting them somewhere local, which is what I would recommend first and foremost if it’s an option) are Fifty Flowers and Flowers and Freshness. They are used with a high rate of success by brides all over.
Alstroemeria is my absolute favorite flower (which makes Tim happy since it’s cheap to get in large quantities!), so that’s literally in every flower component of our wedding and I’m completely excited for it. There are other flowers in the bouquets too of course, but having alstro in them was my only specific flower request.
What flowers are you using? Anything you’re especially excited about?