Cut flowers

Dead Flowers

You can send me dead flowers.

Dead Flowers by the Rolling Stones

Whether you grow your own or just pick up a bouquet at the flower shop, a vase of fresh flowers is a nice way to bring the outdoors inside.  And flowers will be even more welcome in the winter. You can extend the bloom time of your display by using a few simple tips.

How to Extend Bloom Time

  1. Start with a clean vase & good quality water. Always use warm (100 – 110 degree F) clean water as most flowers take in warm water more efficiently than cold. Have you ever left flowers in a vase a little too long, and noticed the awful smell when you finally dumped out the water? That’s because bacteria has been growing in the vase. Keep the water clean and free of foliage.
  2. Use the Flower Food provided. This commercial product is specifically designed to extend the life of your flowers. It contains sucrose (sugar), an acidifier, an inhibitor of microorganisms (bacteria), and agents to draw out certain salts, dirt, and debris which will settle rather than being drawn up the flower stem. Follow the directions on the package.
  3.  Cut Stems & Remove Foliage. Recut the stems at an angle every few days to allow more uptake of water, and remove any foliage below the water line. Have you ever left flowers in a vase a little too long, and noticed the awful smell when you finally dumped out the water? That’s because bacteria has been growing in the vase. Leaves in the water will promote bacterial growth.

At the least, change the water every few days for the best results, and you can re-cut the stems several times. Remove those blooms that are past their prime. Keep the vase in a cool area out of the sun. Remember, these flowers have been cut from their roots, and will eventually die. They will not regrow in the sun.

Ethylene Gas

Ethylene gas, which is the reason the floral department at your local grocery store should NOT be in the same area as the fruits and vegetables. This gas is emitted by the produce and contributes to premature aging of floral displays. Ethylene gas is the reason your tomatoes will ripen in a paper bag, and why you should not store flower bulbs in the refrigerator with fruit. Look at the Grow Direct site for lots more information and the reasons behind these tips.

Tips for Specific Cut Flowers

There are tips for specific cut flowers at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden website.

bouquet of flowers in a mason jar
Bouquet photo by Heather Bozman.

I found this information to be helpful when harvesting my garden for enjoyment indoors or when entering the flower show at the State Fair or the local Garden Club’s flower show. Certain types of blooms may have specific care techniques. For example, our popular Icelandic Poppy (Papaver nudicaule) will survive a trip to the Fair with the technique below from Floret Flower Farm’s website. These folks run a cut flower farm and sell books and seeds. It’s a great information site and they offer classes.

According to Erin and Chris Benzakein,  the perfect stage to pick poppies is in slightly cracking bud,  that is, when the green wrapping is just opening over the flower petals. Once the flowers open, they are much more difficult to handle and process. If you’re growing for your own enjoyment, then you can certainly cut them fully open but note vase life will be decreased by a couple of days.

Iceland Poppy
Papaver nudicaule, Iceland Poppy

To ensure the longest vase life (6-7days!) from your Iceland Poppies you must sear the stem ends. If you only have a few, a lighter or a cup of boiling water will work just fine. Flame or dip (in boiling water) the bottom 2? of the stems for 7-10 seconds or until you notice them changing color and consistency. 

This poppy tip will serve you well when you decide to enter a local flower show, and I encourage you to do so.

Local Flower Show

Here is the Alaska State Fair site for flower entries. I’m sure other states have similar parameters for entries. You should try to become familiar with the specific guidelines on which your specimens will be judged. For example, size, number of stems, NFR (No Foliage Required), etc.

And this one is for crops, including herbs, fruits, veggies, rose hips, etc.

I recommend you enter something next year in a local flower show or fair, just for fun. Maybe you will win a few ribbons!

Flower Dissection!

And finally, what to do with the dead flowers in your vase…Flower Dissection!

This is a fun activity that you can do using your spent blooms from the yard or a bouquet. The dead flowers will NOT be coming alive again, so you might just as well have a little fun with them. This is an activity that we do in our school programs, and the kids love it!

Just take your faded blooms and gently pull them apart, while noticing the flower structures. Basically, you have Perfect and Imperfect flowers. A perfect flower is one with male and female reproductive parts. It may have been a while since biology class so here’s a quick refresher from Enchanted Learning:

Diagram of flower structure

Parts of a Flower

Stamens are the male reproductive parts of flowers. A stamen consists of an anther (which produces pollen) and a filament. The pollen consists of the male reproductive cells; they fertilize ovules. Just remember, “Stay, men!” for the guy parts.

Each carpel includes an ovary (where the ovules are produced; ovules are the female reproductive cells, the eggs), a style (a tube on top of the ovary), and a stigma (which receives the pollen during fertilization). Just remember that women have style and that she might be a Pistol-Packin’ Mama (which is a 1943 song with the words composed by Al Dexter). It’s a silly memory trick, but it works to help you remember the male and female parts of a flower.

 Here’s a website on flower dissection and you can find many more online.


Depending on the age and interest of the person doing this investigation, you can count the individual parts and place the parts on a piece of paper. You can glue or tape them down and add labels. Or not! Just enjoy the investigation. A magnifying glass makes things more interesting.

Start by identifying the more familiar plants parts, the stem and leaves.

Continue by pulling downward on the sepals, the small leaves under the flower. Count them. Do all flowers have the same amount? Note that all the sepals together are referred to as the calyx.

Person holding a magnifying glass to a flower
Student dissecting a Stargazer Lily. Photo by Patrick Ryan.

Next, remove the petals, lay them out and count them.  Note the color, texture and possible patterns. The petals are what generally guides the pollinators to the flower, like an airport runway.

Remove and count the petals. Do all flowers have the same number of petals?

Carefully remove the filaments and anthers, the male parts. Count and label. Is there pollen? What color is it?  Florists often remove the anthers from lilies to avoid the pollen discoloring the petals.

Stargazer anthers on filaments and stigma on the style.

The remaining parts are the stigma, style and ovary- the female parts. The stigma may be sticky to receive the pollen.

Carefully cut open the bulbous ovary. You are likely to see immature seeds.

I hope you will give flower dissecting a try!

Tulip parts showing black pollen on anthers and stigma on the style.
Yellow Hibiscus, Kula Botanical Garden, Hawaii. Photo by Patrick Ryan.

Patrick Ryan is an Alaska Master Gardener and the Education Specialist for the Alaska Botanical Garden. A retired elementary school teacher, Patrick is a member of the Anchorage Community Forest Council and sits on the board for Alaska Agriculture in the Classroom.

6 comments on “Dead Flowers

  1. I often press flowers like that when I go to school, a way to preserve memories.

  2. This reminds me of a great book I was given, called “The Reason For Flowers” by Stephen Buchmann.

  3. Jt Michaels

    Thank you! I shared the dissection project idea with an environmental educator (“My grandson,” says the grateful grandma) who was happy to get a reminder of an effective and fun hands-on learning project.

  4. What a fun idea! And a nice refresher on parts of a flower. Thank you!

  5. I use to do this dissection of flowers with my 4th and 5th graders. We drew and labeled all the parts. It was great fun. Science, art and writing and reading happening all around one activity. Thanks for the fun article.

    • Patrick Ryan

      And the number of petals may be a Fibonacci number, which will be another discussion.

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