Spicy Orange in the Mix

Originally printed in “Lemons and Lemondade” January 2001

The Color Marketing Organization is projecting that blues are the color of the decade, but oranges and dull reds will be used to energize blue. While it appears the bright “spicy oranges” will be most popular orange hue this year, next year more shades of oranges are expected to be in. It may be time to consider growing some orange flowers to meet this projected demand. There is not much in “spicy orange’” brighter than Tithonia, the subject of an intense list serve discussion, which got me thinking about orange for cut flowers.

I grew Tithonia rotundifolia a few years back, actually when this same marketing group said oranges and reds would be popular, due to the influence of the Olympics in Spain. Tithonia grew tall with long stems, and it was easy to cut. But it did have its problems, such as breaking if you looked at it wrong, deciding for itself whether or not it would hold up in a vase. These flowers with minds of their own can drive flower growers crazy. It sold well—once—to every florist, but very few were willing to try it again.

I admit I haven’t tried tithonia since all the hydrating solutions have come on the market, so I’m thinking of trying it again, since it’s a color of choice. This year I plan to use a foliar calcium spray to see if the stem might be stronger, and if the blooms last longer. Last time I transplanted young plants while they were strong and healthy, this time I want to try direct sowing. I also want to experiment with hydrating solution, hoping to have a more reliable cut. The last time I grew tithonia ‘Goldfinger’ which is an annual, the plants were 5 to 6 feet tall, they were very colorful and nice in the field and bloomed from mid summer until frost. Benary offers a shorter tithonia,‘Fiesta Del Sol’; it is bred for pots, and grows 24 inches tall.

Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’ is a perennial that blooms early in the spring. With its clusters of small, bright orange-red flowers, plants truly do look like glowing fire. It’s actually the bracts that are colorful and in small clusters. The plants grow about two feet tall, and can be picked at ground level, easily giving up a 20- to 24-inch stem. The stems, where cut or leaves are stripped, excrete a milky sap that burns or causes allergic reactions to some people. The sap may also affect other flowers that are in the same container especially when freshly cut. I always use latex gloves when cutting or handling euphorbias and dispose of them when I’m finished.

My method of controlling the sap is to bunch the cut stems in the field, and to lay the bunches in a cool place until they seal off, about twenty minutes. The bunches then are put in buckets with hydrating solution to rehydrate and prepare for selling. It may take several hours for stems to total hydrate and harden off. Other methods of controlling sap it to sear the cut ends in a flame or boiling water, but neither of these methods has been practical or cost effective for me, nor do they produce a superior cut product. Another method that has worked equally well is to put fresh cut euphorbias immediately in water with hydrating solution, using the prescribed time and method. The hydrating solution should be discarded after it becomes mixed with Euphorbia sap.

Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow’ is propagated from root cuttings; it can be purchased in plugs or bareroot. It spreads by creeping rhizomes (long fat roots), it spreads fast in moist soil, and is impossible to keep in place, but in well drained soils the rhizomes stay shorter and the plant is more refined and easier to control. Tilling can be used to control ‘Fireglow’ if it moves out of its space, but spraying the shoots that have spread out of the bed will damage the plants in the bed if the roots are still connected. ‘Fireglow’ blooms in early spring; in the garden it will remain a nice plant all season and with nice fall color. It’s one of the first non-bulb perennials to bloom, and the nicest, most intense blooms are taken from the plants once they are fully colored, but still during the cool season. Bloom time varies a bit with the weather; years that the winters are cold it blooms faster and more prolifically than when the winter conditions are mild. Other cultivars of Euphorbia griffithi may be equally nice for cutting. It is rated to grow in zones 5-9 and is a sturdy cut that could likely be shipped.

Geum chiloense ‘Lady Bradshaw’ is another bright orange flower that would energize blue. The seed was easy to germinate, plants were grown on in plugs (72s) and transplanted out in early June. They made very good growth the first season, but did not flower. The second season they began flowering in May and were especially productive through June, and on a more limited schedule throughout the season. Each two-foot stem produced bright reddish orange flowers, with several buds and one open bloom, which was about one and a half inches in diameter. The primary flower was the nicest, the secondary flowers opened in water, not as large and not always keeping the vibrant color. The stems are slim and not leafy so there isn’t much stripping required. Geum appreciates good garden soil, moisture in the summer, and good drainage in the winter. The variety I grew was ‘Lady Bradshaw Improved’. There was a lot of variation in the plants, many were very double, with large flowers, but some were single and smaller. I can’t say I was super excited about this plant, but it sold well, even had repeat customers. It lasted well in a vase and had no special conditioning requirements. Harvesting consisted of bunching 18- to 20-inch long stems in the field, twenty stems per bunch; it was shipped and stored in water. This perennial can be grown from seeds, plugs or divisions.

Geum chiloense and Tithonia are both fragile flowers that would best sold on the local market. Euphorbia griffithii ‘Fireglow” is sturdier and could handle longer distance shipping.

Quite a few orange flowers make good cut flowers, and might be worth growing while orange is cool (or hot!). Some annual orange flowers are Cosmos sulphureus, dahlias, zinnias, snapdragons, celosia, Iceland and Oriental poppies, marigolds, ornamental peppers, sunflowers like ‘Soraya’ and ‘Sonja’, safflower, and Leonotis. Perennials include Kniphofia, Crocosmia, tiger lilies, Lilium pardalinuin, gloriosa lily, alstroemeria, Penstemon barbatus ‘Iron Maiden’, Asclepias tuberosa, Trollius ledebourii, and berries of Arum italicum. roses, viburnum, pyracantha and bittersweet are shrubs that would provide some orange.