Christmas bells are distinctive flowers with great consumer appeal and a long vase life. As the peak flowering season is in December and January, the name 'christmas bells' is appropriate.
The tubular, bell-shaped flowers are clustered at the end of long, straight stems which extend up from the base of the grass-like plant. The number of bells per stem varies, from 4 to over 10. The flowers are typically red with a yellow edge, by flowers are available in a range of tones from red through to orange and yellow. Eleven different types of flower colour and eight different flower shapes have been identified. Selections in which the hell flares out at the base are more difficult to pack.
Blandfordia grandiflora belongs to a small genus confined to moist heathland areas of coastal central and northern NSW and south-east Queensland. The plants form clumps and are slow growing.
Blandfordia is a protected native plant, and a licence is required to harvest flowers for commercial purposes.
A small number of growers produce flowers for domestic and export markets. Cultivated flowers are more likely to meet these quality standards. However, supply is limited by the slow growth of the plants, which take at least 3 years to produce flowers.
Information on cultural practices is becoming available, although there is still much to be learned. In cultivation, the main challenges are weed management, plant losses due to root diseases, and insect and bird damage to the flowers. Some growers grow their plants in a shade house to protect them from birds and insects, but such flowers may have less intense colours.
The major obstacle in establishing Blandfordia commercially remains the lack of uniform clones and varieties to provide consistency of products with predictable flower sizes, appearance and quality.
This specifications applies to Blandfordia flowers which have been commercially grown under license.
Flowers picked too early fail to open; flowers picked too late lose vase life.
Do not market flowering stems on which the lowest (eldest) flower has a papery, withered or shrunken appearance.
STAGES OF OPENING
(from left to right)
Stage 1 -- Immature stage: unacceptable to market as the flower colour will not develop properly.
Stage 2 -- Early stage (oldest, or basal, bud still with a green tip): suitable for only a few markets, risk of poor colour development.
Stage 3 -- Slightly early stage (tip of oldest bud turning yellow): preferred only by a few markets, e.g. for export.
Stage 4 -- Prime stage (oldest flower bud has split open): suitable for export and domestic markets.
Stage 5 -- Prime stage for domestic market (oldest flower fully open and next bud almost split), risk of flower damage in transit.
Stage 6 -- Late stage: suitable for some domestic markets (2 flowers open), risk of flower damage in transit and pollen shedding.
THE CHRISTMAS bell flowering season is October to January.
TYPICAL VASE LIFE is 12 days, although export can reduce this, especially if transport conditions are not cold enough, the product dries out
or transport takes too long.
Flowers bell shaped, the colour(s) clear and typical of the selection.
Flower stems bearing 4-7 florets for export, or at least 4 florets for the domestic market.
WHEN TO HARVEST
For export, harvest the day before the first bell splits (when the flower bulges outwards at the tip).
For domestic market, harvest when 1 bell on the stem has split and is opening.
No deformed or damaged blooms (including mechanical damage).
No shrivelling of flower margins.
Ensure the flowers are free of grit and soil, weed seeds or weeds, and signs of insects or spiders, such as webbing.
PESTS AND DISEASES
No apparent pest or disease damage, no chewing damage or borer holes.
Discard any poor-quality product with insects or fungal infections.
- The marketed stems have no leaves.
- Rigid and strong enough to support blooms - avoid thin, weak stems and very ticket and cracked stems.
- Bend <15º.
- Neatly cut end.
- According to market demand, typically as recommended in 'grading and bunching' below.
HANDLING AT HARVEST
- Minimise drying out and exposure to heat - pick when it is cool, early in the day, preferably straight into buckets of clean water with added register biocide, and hold in the shade.
- Avoid harvesting when the flowers are wet.
- Cut stems with sharp secateurs.
- Handle carefully to avoid bruising, especially yellow flowers.
- Move cut stems promptly to a cool, shaded packing area. Cool quickly to remove field heat.
GRADING AND BUNCHING
- Remove any pollen sacs on open flowers to avoid pollen spilling onto the flowers (pollen goes black if flowers are dipped to disinfect them).
- Reject any contaminated stems
- Sort stems according to flower maturity, length and thickness: number of bells proportional to stem length.
- Market stems with fewer bells on shorter stems.
- Blandfordia is generally sold as single stems or in bunches of 5 stems.
- Some growers defer making bunches until they are ready to dispatch to market (because some flowers may collapse after harvest; this ensures that marketed bunches contain only those stems that meet the specification. Flowers are graded, dipped and pulsed, and then held in a cool room until it is time to bunch.
- Make a bunch with the florets of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th stems pack under those of each preceding stem, so that a tight, self supporting bunch is formed.
- Presentation is important. Stay consistent for the grade and make all bunches the same.
- Use 2 ties - 1 near the base and another just below the florets. Two ties make bunches easier to pack.
- Especially for export, stems should be approximately the same diameter within a bunch, with the ends aligned.
- 70cm length / 7 florets per stem / 5 stems per bunch
- 60cm length / 6 florets per stem / 5 stems per bunch
- 50cm length / 5 florets per stem / 5 stems per bunch
- 40cm length / 4 florets per stem / 5 stems per bunch
- 30cm length / 3 florets per stem / 5 stems per bunch
- (Stem length is measured from the cut end to the top of the bend in the flower stalk of the uppermost bell.)
- To maintain quality, sleeve bunches (or at least the flower heads), especially for export. This improves product appearance, stops the florets from becoming entangled with each other, reduces drying out and makes it easier to pack.
- Select sleeve size to suit the bunch size.
- Microperforated sleeves are recommended as they prevent condensation.
HOLDING AND STORAGE
Effective cooling soon after harvest is important to retaining quality and maximising vase life. There are two options:
Cool / process / cool: for example, remove field heat by cooling flowers immediately on entry into shed to 10 degrees in buckets of solution, process flowers (grade, dip, pulse - bunching optional at this time), and then cool to 2-4 degrees by either forced-air cooling (if boxed) or holding overnight in cool room.
Process within 1 hour of cutting, and then cool to 2-4 degrees with either forced-air cooling for 20-30 minutes (if boxed) or holding overnight in a cool room (if in buckets).
Forced-air cooling of packed flowers is ideal for large volumes of product.
TEMPERATURE AND HUMIDITY
- Hold in a high humidity cool room (95%) at 2-4 degrees.
- Another way of achieving high humidity is to cover with flowers with plastic sleeves or plastic sheeting, as long as there is no condensation on the flowers, which can lead to decay in storage.
- Blandfordia need a sugar pulse to maximise vase life.
- The suggested sugar concentration is 20g/L. Check the optimum pulsing solution by doing your own trials.
- Use high quality water to make up solutions and add a registered biocide. Pulse for 2-3 hours at 20-24 degrees (packing shed, eg during grading), or longer at 2-4 degrees.
- Pulse in cool room is weather is very hot.
- Prepare fresh pulsing solution for each batch.
- Post-harvest solution: hold in clean potable water with an added registered biocide (floral preservatives have not been found to improve vase life).
- Holding solution: same as post-harvest solution.
LONGER TERM STORAGE
- For longer storage seek professional advice, and test in the market before committing product.
- Trials have shown that longer storage is possible when stems have been dipped in a registered fungicide and stored dry and well-wrapped in boxes at 1 degree.
- Pack only dry, cold flowers.
- Especially for export, stems in each box should be approximately the same in diameter and length, with a consistent number of florets per stem.
- Pack bunches with flower heads at each end of the box and stems in the middle to avoid damaging blooms. Secure the stems within the centre of the box (eg with strips of polystyrene or export hooks)so the product will not move and become damaged. Some growers place a pillow of foam across the bottom of the box where the first heads will lie to cushion the flowers.
- Packing too tightly can damage flowers during transit.
- Use boxes with holes to allow forced-air cooling.
- Minimise water loss. For long-distance shipping consider lining boxes with long-life plastic film.
- Cool flowers to 2-4 degrees before transport.
LABELLING AND DOCUMENTATION
- Label boxes and buckets clearly, or as required by customer.
- Ensure box contents are exactly the same as specified in the documentation and on the end of the box.
- Refrigerated vehicle at 2-4 degrees for long-distance transport.
COMMON POST-HARVEST PROBLEMS
FUNGAL DECAY IN STORAGE DUE TO BOTRYTIS OR INSECTS
- Use pre-harvest fungicide sprays to reduce risk of botrrytis (grey mould)..
- Use pre-harvest insecticide sprays to reduce the pest population at harvest.
- Dip flowers that are to be packaged and held for any significant length of time (up to 5 days) in a registered fungicide and insecticide solution for not less than 1 minute, then dry naturally for 2 hours to ensure thorough disinfestation.
- Wait until flowers are dry before returning to cool room or packing - ensure there is no chemical residue or flower discolouration as a result of the dip.
- Some flowers may collapse after dipping (cause unknown). It is recommended to keep additional dipped and graded flowers on hand to replace any collapsed flowers in the prepared bunches before dispatch to market.
- OR defer bunching until ready to send to market.
- Blandfordia is sensitive to solvents found in some insecticides - these can strip the colour from the flowers.
- Blandfordia is not sensitive to ethylene.
PALE FLOWER COLOUR ON OPENING
- This can result if immature flowers have been held in cold storage.
flannel flower handling information
for importers / wholesalers
- Recut stems and place into fresh water containing a registered biocide or cut-flower food. Cool product before marketing or sending on and keep it cool.
- Maintain good hygiene and keep containers clean.
Upon receipt of product, recut stems and place into fresh water containing a registered biocide.
Use clean buckets and containers for displays.
Do not display flowers in areas that are exposed to full sun, draughts, high temperatures or vehicle exhausts, and preferably away from fruit and vegetables. Use refrigerated displays if possible.
Tell the customer ho to care for the flowers and emphasise the need for fresh water and clean vases. Give the customer a sachet of cut-flower food to take home.
- Keep vase filled with the correct solution of cut-flower food. Check daily, as flowers can use a lot of water. If cut-flower food is not used, change the water at least every second day. Always use clean vases and clean water.
- Do not display in areas that are exposed to full sun, draughts or high temperatures. Keep as cool as possible without freezing.
- Discard other flower types in the same vase when they reach the end of their vase life.