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FLANNEL FLOWER

Actinotus Helianthi

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The flannel flower is one of the most recognisable Australian native flowers, with attractive white flowers and grey-green foliage with a flannelly texture.

Flannel flowers grow wild in the coastal regions of Australia's east coast. They have long, straight stems and terminal flowers, making them popular as a cut filler flowers on both domestic and export markets.

Most flannel flowers marketed today come from cultivated plants. In the past they have largely come from bush-picked material, which varied greatly in flower form and quality.

Given the relatively short period from planting to harvest, they have the potential to provide an excellent return from a small land area. 

Flannel flowers are generally treated as a biennial crop, although they can grow well in cultivation for up to 4 years. More flowers are produced in the second and third years, after which stems tend to become shorter. 

Two types of flannel flowers are now being grown:

  • All-year-round flowering cultivars can be grown intensively in greenhouses in artificial media. This allows aeration and drainage to be managed more easily and assists in controlling soilborne diseases. Stems tend to have a single terminal flower.
  • Spring-flowering flannel flowers are usually grown in field plantings and generally have longer and thicker stems. the flowers tend to be borne in multiple heads - three or more branches (each with a bloom at the tip) per stem are needed to maximise the market appeal, especially in Japan. 

Browning of the flower tips seems to be related to stress caused by heat, drought or salinity, or to pesticide burn. 

Prolonged exposure to flannel flowers can cause allergic reactions similar to those caused by kangaroo paws and grevilleas. This is due to the fine hairs on the leaves and flowers. Dipping (to protect against botrytis) usually removes more of the free hairs. Sensitive workers, especially those handling large quantities of undipped flowers, should wear protective, especially on the forearms and hands, and perhaps a dust mask. 


STAGES OF OPENING

(from left to right)

Stage 1 -- Very immature: if the head still droops slightly it is too immature to harvest.

Stage 2 -- Earliest to market (export): the flower needs to be partly open to ensure the stem at the neck is strong enough to support it.

Stage 3 -- Ideal to market (export and domestic).

Stage 4 -- Too mature for export, but still suitable for domestic market.

Stage 5 -- All flowers overmature.

The stages shown apply to the product at market entry. Pay attention to the weather, time of year and mode and duration of transport, because the flowers will continue to open during transport. You must consult with your target market that the flowers arrive at the desired stage. 

STAGES OF FLOWER DEVELOPMENT

(from left to right)

Stage 0 -- Immature stage: small, closed, green bud; acceptable to market.

Stage 1 -- Immature stage: opening green bud; the head still droops naturally, as the stem is not yet strong enough to hold it upright.

Stage 2 -- Early stage: open bud, bracts still small and green, florets <10mm; preferred by only a few markets, eg export. Among certain cultivars (eg all-year-round flowering), partly opened buds will fully open during shipping to export markets.

Stage 3 -- Flower open, held upright on stem; bracts fluorescent white; centre of flower light green.

Stage 4 -- Flower open; latest stage for picking; centre of flower light green. Prime for domestic markets.

Stage 5 -- Overmature: centre of flower light brown.

Stage 6 -- Closing: not accepted by many markets.

Stage 7 -- Bracts closed.

Stage 8 -- Finished: seeds formed, bracts open or reflexed backwards.


The flowering season for flannel flowers is august to January,
with a peak in spring. we also have a limited crop of
greenhouse grown flowers available all year round.

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TYPICAL VASE LIFE is 14-21 days in a vase, although export can reduce this period.


PRODUCT SPECS

FLOWERS

APPEARANCE

  • Clean, white bracts with green tips (length of green tip depends on cultivar).
  • Minimum size is 3cm (or the size of a 50 cent coin).
  • The most mature flower on the stem must be fully developed, with the petal-like bracts mostly or fully reflexed (bent back) and the central dome at full size. Individual flowers in the central dome are open or about to open. No browning of central flower mass (which indicates ageing). 

WHEN TO HARVEST

  • For domestic market: when one flower is fully open (stage 2 or 3).
  • For export: when one flower is at stage 1 or 2.
  • Avoid harvesting when flowers are wet.

DAMAGE

  • No obvious damage to bracts.
  • No obvious blemish (sunburn, wilting of individual flowers).
  • Minimal noticeable bract browning or other blemishes.

CONTAMINATION

  • Product free of grit and soil, weeds or weed seeds, living or dead insects, and signs of insects or spiders, such as webbing. 

PESTS AND DISEASE

  • No insects, insect damage or disease.

LEAVES

APPEARANCE

  • Fresh grey-green, not wilted.
  • Remove from lower 1/3 of stem.

DAMAGE

  • Free of evidence of pests, disease or other blemishes, including mechanical damage.

STEMS

APPEARANCE

  • Rigid and strong enough to support blooms.
  • Relatively straight with <20 degree bend.
  • Not damaged by removal of leaves.
  • Neatly cut end.

LENGTH

  • As long as possible, but never cut into the oldest part of the stem (or plants lose vigour).

HANDLING AT HARVEST

  • Minimise drying out and exposure to heat - pick when it is cool, preferably straight into buckets of clean potable water. Do not add sugar.
  • Hold stems in the shade.
  • Move cut stems promptly to a cool, shaded packing area.

GRADING AND BUNCHING

GRADING

  • Discard any poor quality product.
  • Size is proportional to stem thickness or weight, eg larger flowers on thicker stems.

BUNCHING

  • The number of stems per bunch varies, and is determined by their length and by market and buyer requirements. However, presentation is important, for for example if 5 stems make a thing looking bunch, increase bunch size in lots of 5 stems.. Stay consistent for the grade and make all bunches the same. Aim for symmetrical bunches.
  • Ensure stems are held firmly so the bunch remains tight. Use 2 ties, 1 at the base and another further up the bunch and looser. Some growers use 3 ties on long-stemmed bunches.
  • Especially for export, stems should be approximately the same diameter within a bunch, with the ends aligned.

SLEEVES

  • To maintain quality, sleeve bunches (mandatory for export, preferred for domestic market). This improves product appearance, reduces drying out and makes it easier to pack.
  • Select the sleeve size to suit the bunch size.
  • Microperforated sleeves are recommended, as they reduce the formation of condensation.
  • The sleeve should extend well past the top of the bunch to prevent drying out.

STEM LENGTH

  • 70cm+ stem / 5-10 stems per bunch
  • 60cm stem / 10 stems per bunch
  • 40-50cm stem / 10-15 stems per bunch
  • <40cm stem / 10-20 stems per bunch

HOLDING AND STORAGE

COOLING

  • 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 fooling flowers immediately on entry into shed to 10 degrees in buckets of solution, process flowers (grade, bunch), and then cool to 2-4 degrees by either forced-air cooling (if boxed) or holding overnight in a cool room.
    • Process within 1 hour of cutting, and then cool to 2-4 degrees by 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.

HOLDING TEMPERATURE AND HUMIDITY

  • If necessary, hold at 2-4 degrees (but not colder) in high relative humidity (95%+) for up to 3 days.

POST-HARVEST SOLUTION

  • Pulsing solution is not required.
  • Post-harvest solution: use high quality water, do not add sugar.
  • Holding solution: same as post-harvest solution.

LONGER-TERM STORAGE

  • For longer-term storage, story dry and in final packaging. Seek professional advice and test in the market before committing product.

PACKAGING

  • Pack bunches of the same size (stem number, weight or thickness) together.
  • Put bunches of similar length together, and ensure all bunches meet this specification.
  • Pack bunches firmly so the product will not move and be damaged.
  • Pack boxes according to customer requirements.
  • Use boxes with holes to allow forced-air cooling.
  • Minimise water loss, especially for long distance domestic shipping, by lining boxes with plastic.
  • If shipping overseas into high summer temperatures, check with the overseas customer about whether to use sleeves or paper liners.
  • After packaging, cool flowers to 2-4 degrees before transport.

LABELLING AND DOCUMENTATION

  • Label boxes and buckets clearly, or as specified by customer.
  • Ensure box contents are exactly the same as specified in the documentation and on the end of the box.

TRANSPORT

  • 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 during wet weather to reduce risk of botrytis disease.
  • Use pre-harvest insecticide sprays to reduce pest population at harvest.
  • Dip flowers that are to be packaged and held for any significant length of time (export product) in a registered fungicide or insecticide solution with added wetting agent for not less than 1 minute, then dry naturally for 2 hours to ensure thorough disinfestation.

BROWNING OF FLOWER TIPS

  • Minimise pre- and post-harvest stress due to heat, drying out or salinity.
  • Test pesticides before use to avoid phytotoxicity - some have been associated with tip browning.

ETHYLENE SENSITIVITY

  • Flannel flowers do not appear to be susceptible to ethylene.

flannel flower handling information

for importers / wholesalers

  • Upon receipt of product, recut stems and place into fresh water containing a registered biocide.

  • Cool product before marketing or sending on, and as much as possible in the lead up to sale.
  • Maintain good hygiene and keep containers clean.

for retailers

  • 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.

for consumers

  • Keep vase filled with fresh clean water. Check daily, as flowers can use a lot of water. Change the water at least every second day. Always use clean vases and clean water.
  • Ensure there are no leaves below the water line.
  • Do not display in areas that are exposed to full sun, draughts or high temperatures. 

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