fresh flower


Hailing from Australia, this showy flower is bright, unusual and long lasting.

by Steven W. Brown, AIFD

Photo courtesy of the Australian Flower Export Council

1 big red. Telopea, pronounced “te-LO-pee-uh,” produces spectacular crimson-colored blossoms as large as 6 inches in diameter. Each distinctive inflorescence is a dense head of tubular racemes, or styles, surrounded by showy red bracts. The actual flowers develop at the raceme tips. Each plant can produce from as few as 10 to as many as 240 individual flower heads.

2 protea cousin. Telopea belongs to the Proteaceae family, which also includes Protea, Banksia, Leucadendron (conebushes), Leucospermum (pincushions), Grevillea and Dryandra. And although Telopea is a member of the Proteaceae family, don’t refer to these flowers as Proteas; their common name is “waratah,” which is an Aboriginal word.

3 down-under delight. Telopeas are native to southeastern Australia—New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. There are only four species of these flowers; the species most commonly produced as a cut flower is T. speciosissima (New South Wales waratah), which also is the state floral emblem of New South Wales.

4 a sight to behold. The name “Telopea” is derived from the Greek word “telopos,” which means “seen from afar.” It refers to the great distance from which the crimson flowers can be spotted. The species name “speciosissima” is the superlative of the Latin adjective speciosus, meaning “beautiful,” “handsome” or “showy.”

5 hybrid colors. Although most Telopea flowers are crimson, new varieties have been developed, including ‘Fire ‘n’ Ice’ (red with white tips), ‘Songlines’ (pink in bud, opening flame red), and ‘Dreaming’ (opens white and matures to pink). The most well-known white variety is ‘Wirrimbirra White.’

6 cool blooms. Telopeas bloom during the cool seasons. They are grown commercially in Australia, New Zealand, Israel and the United States (Hawaii and California). From these various worldwide sources, they are available year-round.

7 choose carefully. Purchase Telopeas when the flowers have developed and the racemes (styles) are separating from the centers. Look for signs of fungus or mold, and avoid stems that have blackened foliage (caused by lack of nutrients and warm temperatures).

8 necessary care. Remove packaging and bindings from these flowers immediately upon their arrival. Trim at least 1 inch from the stems with a sharp knife or pruner, and remove all leaves that would fall below the water line and any that cover the blossoms. Dip or place the stems into a hydration solution, then place them into a clean container partially filled with a properly prepared fresh flower food solution.

9 chill-out time. Store Telopeas in a floral cooler at 33 F to 35 F. Provide good air circulation, high humidity, indirect light and flower food. The blossoms will last for approximately 10 to 14 days if cared for properly.

10 design tips. Telopeas dry naturally and can be used in dried and preserved floral arrangements. Use them in fresh designs with other flowers that will dry, then instruct consumers to stop adding water when the blooms have reached the end of their fresh life, and a natural dried design will result.

Thanks to the International Protea Association; The Hawaii Tropical Flower Growers Association; and Roy Borodkin of Brannan Street Wholesale Florist, San Francisco Flower Mart.

Steven W. Brown, AIFD, is a professor and department chair of horticulture and floristry at City College of San Francisco with 27 years of consulting and educational experience in the floral industry. You may contact him by e-mail at or by phone at (415) 239-3140.

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