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The Dark Side of Dried | Chemically Preserved Flowers | Australia

The Dark Side of Dried | Chemically Preserved Flowers

When people ask me about my business, and when I explain that I work with dried flowers, I am always very, very careful with this explanation… real dried flowers, I usually say.  I have to.  Because when we talk about dried flowers these days, I know what people might be thinking. 

While naturally dried, real dried flowers are popular, the extensive range of chemically preserved flowers {bleached, synthetically dyed, altered, and imported} are, unfortunately, far more prevalent. 

They can be found everywhere.  You’ll see them while simply walking down the street… filling boutiques, storefront windows, gracing checkout counters, reception desks, and restaurant tables.  They fill offices and homes all around the world; they are available to buy in homewares stores, in flower shops, in online stores, and they are abundant across social media accounts, where they are used by floral designers, shopkeepers, wedding florists, and interior stylists.

This is an upsetting topic for me to discuss, and one that I actually try to avoid, for the most part, because I find it so troubling.  I believe that actions speak louder than words, and I try to share my voice on this topic through my creations.  I try to show how wonderful and amazing real dried flowers are, and how beautiful and abundant mother nature is, all on her own, imperfections included.  I try to show all of the many colours and textures that already exist naturally in flowers, and the amazing quality and longevity that untreated dried flowers have. 

Furthermore, I try to show that by connecting with natural, local, seasonal flowers, and keeping them in our homes, we are given an incredible opportunity to learn about our environment and appreciate the natural world for what it is.  And perhaps, find the desire to nurture it and protect it.  For many people, flowers offer one of the last remaining ways that we can connect with the real, existing, seasonal world around us.  I feel very strongly that we should not let a fad take that away from us.  

In this Journal post, I am going to explain what preserved flowers are and present some concerns and talking points.  I will share reasons why we should all take notice of this unnecessary floral trend, and think about the impacts that it is having on each other, the environment, and our quality of life.  Coming from a place of kindness and concern, I hope that my thoughts will shine a little bit of light on the issue, especially for those who are unfamiliar with preserved flowers.  

chemically preserved flowers in australia
chemically altered preserved flowers in australia


To start with, I think that there may be some confusion around what these materials actually are.  There was a time, when it was quite popular for florists to do a little bit of DIY preserving themselves, such as dipping some stems in glycerine, or dying a few stems with some food colouring.  And so, I wonder, when someone sees a neon pink bunch of billy buttons, if they think that their florist was just having a wild night of creativity?  No! This is not the case!

The chemically preserved flower industry is an enormous one, making up a good chunk of the multi-billion-dollar worldwide floral industry.  This is big, big business, which is why we need to talk about it.  For the most part, these materials are mass produced in Asia, where production and labour is cheap, and flowers can be grown in large factory farms, preserved and processed quickly and distributed in vast quantities. 

Endless numbers of shipping containers are sent all around the world, every day, filling markets with so many chemically preserved, plastic-wrapped materials, that in many flower shops they outnumber the domestically grown flowers that are available for sale.  In Australia, most of this material does include an origin label when it is purchased in its original packaging, which is usually China.  Once they are removed from this packaging, they can sometimes be harder to identify; they are then used to create bouquets, wreaths, arrangements, and floral installations.  

bleached dyed chemically altered preserved flowers australia

Preserved flowers can best be described as some sort of taxidermy.  What starts with a living, breathing thing - is transformed into something zombie-like - resembling its original form, but eerily different - distorted and dressed up to fool people into thinking that it is something that it is not.  It all goes something like this… First, the plant material is drenched in bleaching agents and dehydrating alcohol solutions in order to strip all of the life and colour from the plant.  Once there is nothing left but a brittle, empty shell, the material is embalmed… it is soaked in glycerine and preservatives, pumping the shell back up with an array of softening agents and additional chemicals to prevent mould and deter rats, mice, and cockroaches from nibbling. 

Then, like a mortician prepping the skin of a corpse, the flowers are coated in moisturisers and dyes - to create trendy, shiny, artificial colourways.  Some are also donned with a sprinkling of plastic glitter.  The materials are sprayed with artificial fragrance, in an attempt to mask the toxic odours, and then finally, in order to export them internationally, they are fumigated to ensure that not a single atom of life remains on the product.  What is left is nothing but fake, brightly coloured mummies that have been packed up in smelly coffins of thick plastic.  

chemically altered botanicals preserved flowers australia


All preserved flowers have been so heavily altered that they all must go to landfill.  Nothing can be recycled or composted.  That is a mind-boggling amount of unnecessary material that is going straight into the red bin.  Flowers are an item of luxury; we’re not talking about life-saving medical equipment here.  So, I think that the word ‘unnecessary’ is an understatement. 

If people are purchasing preserved flowers for their longevity, they would be better off with faux flowers, which actually do last forever, and can be dusted and washed, reused and stored.  Preserved flowers don’t actually last.  Think of them like a very old bottle of cooking oil that you have left at the back of your kitchen cabinet for too long – what happens to it?  It turns rancid, funny smelling, and so sticky that you can’t clean it and need to chuck it.  This is exactly what happens to preserved flowers, except in addition to this, they get coated with dust that sticks on and cannot be cleaned away, so their lifespan is cut short, and they are binned.  

altered, dyed, chemically preserved flowers australiaON THE ISSUE OF TRENDS

I haven’t been part of the floral industry for very long, so I can’t really say when, exactly, these products started to emerge, but I do know that the first time I saw them was a 4-5 years ago, when the most on-trend colours were pale peach and ‘bohemian’ beige and white.  I started to notice everlasting wreaths and dried flower arrangements that were made up entirely of these colours – all bleached grasses and pastel-dyed billy buttons and bunny tails.  And so, perhaps it is the colour availability that has made them so appealing?  

Similarly, at the time I am writing this, I find that big, bold, neon colours are trending – and so again, I wonder if it is appealing to some that there are so many preserved materials that have all of these colours available in vast quantities.  Perhaps neon-blue hydrangeas and fluorescent-pink grasses are somehow seen as artistic or in-style because they fit the current colour trend?

I’ve never really been one for trends, and if you need another reason to be wary of them, here it is.  Anything that is a trend, whether it is flowers or clothing or homewares, will tend to have a short lifespan in our lives and our homes, so it is not a very conscious way to consume anything.  

dyed preserved flowers in australia


Maybe colour is to blame, and maybe the truth is that a lot of people just really like them.  That, in a way, is easier for me to understand.  There are a lot of people that prefer a can of soda over some natural fruit juice. 

Maybe food presents a really great analogy for this issue.  I think of preserved flowers much like a ‘Fruit Drink’ that has a big fat label on the front saying ‘Real Fruit,’ but then as you look at the ingredients on the back, you can clearly see that the food is made overseas, with preservatives, sweeteners, artificial flavours and colours… and 1% fruit.  This is exactly what preserved flowers are.  They are 1% flower. 

Maybe preserved flower bouquets should be labelled and sold with an ‘ingredients’ label, so people understand what they are buying, and so for those who might not know what real flowers actually look like, are not led to believe that they are buying something that actually occurs naturally on this planet. preserved flowers for sale in australia


The most disturbing fact of all, I believe, is the unseen damage that this trend has.  This is what is most upsetting to me.  Bringing flowers into our homes and spaces is one of the last remaining ways that humans can connect with the natural world.  Flowers should be something that foster a deeper connection to nature, that fill us with curiosity and leave us wanting more… maybe a desire to find flowers in the wild and develop an interest in the conservation of their habitat, or maybe to grow them at home and spend a bit more time in the garden. 

Flowers should be a sensory experience, we should enjoy the natural feel and scent of them, whether they are fresh or dried.  Preserved flowers take all of this away.  There is nothing to ponder about a fluorescent-pink billy button, because it does not exist.  There is nothing that a neon-blue hydrangea can teach you about the seasons, because it does not exist.  There is nothing to see but bleach, dye and glitter, nothing to feel but a slick, slimy residue, and there is nothing to smell except the stench of chemicals.  There is nothing that holds any wonder or meaning, there is nothing to talk about as it fills homes with emptiness, and there is nothing about it that can teach us, or our children, about nature and our environment.    

bleached preserved flowers australia


It is always a better idea to buy locally made items; this not only supports the local economy, but it greatly reduces the carbon footprint of products that we consume.  But things get a lot more complicated with imported flowers.  The concern is not just that they originate overseas, but more so, what circumstances have they been grown in {and at what cost to the environment and to workers} in order to be so inexpensive and desirable for import.  And what have they been through in order to cross the border into Australia?  

It is well known, that imported flowers are often grown in conditions where labour is cheap, and where worker safety and environmental protection is poorly managed.  We know that many varieties of fresh flowers are dipped in glyphosate and that all plant material is fumigated.  So, there is a lot more to the problem here – we end up consuming things that are not really safe for handling or composting, that don't have longevity, and that leave a long trail of environmental issues behind them.

All of these well-discussed issues with imported flowers can only be exacerbated by the preservation process.  How else are these preserved flowers impacting our planet?  Where is all of the run off from their production going?  Where does it all go if it doesn't make it into the landfill? 

I have struggled, through all of my attempts to research the source of preserved flowers, to find many facts at all about where exactly they come from, or any articles about how exactly they are produced.  The flower industry as a whole, seems to be quite unregulated and mysterious, and it is frustrating when there is just a lack of information.

In my next Journal post, I will delve into the process of drying flowers naturally, and I promise it will be a more cheerful post than this one!  But this is such and important issue to talk about, and I really appreciate that you are here.


  • Ask questions! – Ask your florist where their flowers are from before purchasing.  Ask for all-natural, Australian flowers and nothing preserved.  There is nothing wrong with asking lots of questions. 
  • Be careful when shopping for dried flowers.  How sad for me to say that!  But if you are looking at them in person or online – look closely.  Do they look natural?  Do they look dry and crispy?  Do they have an origin label?  Do they look like something you can compost?
  • Be wary of mixed arrangements.  Chemically preserved flowers can often be found mixed in with naturally dried flowers and fresh flowers.  This is very troubling because it makes purchasing very confusing.  Again, asking questions is always a good idea. 
  • Buy fresh flowers and dry them yourself.  I am so excited to share more about this wonderful {and simple} process with you soon!  You can have a look at all of the flowers that I dry myself here.  


I hope that this is helpful to someone out there. Xx 

With complete kindness and concern,


Elizabeth xx

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