These tiny flowers with aromatic foliage are delightful filler flowers for spring arrangements.
by Steven W. Brown, AIFD
1 PROPER NAMES. Native to South Africa, breath-of-heaven is botanically known as Coleonema (pronounced “ko-lee-o-NEE-ma”). Coleonemas are often incorrectly referred to as Diosma, which is a similar but different genus. Another appropriate common name for these tiny flowers is confetti bush.
2 GIVE US A DESCRIPTION. Coleonemas are small heathlike shrubs with aromatic, short, needlelike leaves on wiry twigs. They produce tiny, starry flowers (thus the name “confetti bush”) in white, pink and even red. The leaves give off a spicy, sweet, citrus scent when crushed (“breath-of-heaven”).
3 THE FAMILY UNIT. Like its look-alike cousin Diosma, Coleonema is a member of the Rutaceae family. Close relatives include Boronia, Skimmia and Citrus (lime, lemon, orange, tangerine and grapefruit).
4 GREEK TO ME. The name Coleonema is derived from the Greek words “koleos,” meaning “sheath,” and “nema,” meaning “thread” and referring to the filaments of the stamens, which are folded into the flower petals.
5 DIVIDE BY FOUR. Purchase Coleonema when about one quarter of the blossoms are open. Stay away from bunches with tight buds; they could have been harvested too early and might not open fully. Branches should be pliable. In addition, avoid bunches that show any signs of browning or rotted foliage.
6 TO CARE IS GOOD. To care for cut Coleonemas, unwrap the bunches immediately upon arrival. Remove all bindings as well as any foliage that will fall below the water line. Cut at least 1 inch from the bottom of the woody stems with a sharp knife or pruner.
Next, dip or place the stems into a hydration solution, then into a warm, properly proportioned flower food solution. Finally, place them into a floral refrigerator at 33 F to 36 F, and allow them to hydrate for at least two hours before designing with or selling them.
7 DON’T GET GASSED. Coleonemas show signs of ethylene sensitivity, so check with your supplier to make sure these flowers have been treated with an ethylene inhibitor at the grower or wholesaler level or during transportation. In addition, be sure to place the flowers into clean buckets, keep your refrigerator clean and avoid placing the flowers near fresh fruits, vegetables and other sources of ethylene.
8 LONG-LASTING BEAUTIES. Coleonemas will last for five to seven days when properly cared for. These thirsty flowers do best when arranged in vases with large capacities that are kept filled with flower food solution.
9 COOL-SEASON BLOSSOMS. Coleonemas are usually available from December through March although sometimes as late as May. Much of the U.S. supply is domestically grown, primarily in California.
10 FRESH DESIGN IDEAS. Coleo-nemas are excellent filler flowers and a great alternative to baby’s breath, waxflowers, heather and other more common flowers. They combine beautifully with roses, and with their availability during February, they can add a distinctive look to your Valentine’s Day designs.
Steven W. Brown, AIFD, is a professor and department chair of horticulture and floristry at City College of San Francisco with 26 years of consulting and educational experience in the floral industry.