fresh flower

blooming branches

Chase away the winter blues with these spring treasures.

by Steven W. Brown, AIFD

Chaenomeles, Flowering quince
Photos courtesy of Ameri-Cal Floral

1 winter’s thaw. Most blooming branches, a welcome sight in the spring, produce either small, delicate, spicate flowers or catkins along linear, woody branches. Several genera have mild fragrances.

2 family matters. Blooming branches fall among several families. Prunus (the stone fruits, including cherries, plums, apricots, peaches, nectarines and almonds); Spiraea (bridal wreath); and Chaenomeles (flowering quince) are members of the Rosaceae (rose) family, which originated in Eastern Asia and Japan. Relatives include rose, Cotoneaster, apple and pear.

Forsythia (golden bells) is a member of the Oleaceae (olive) family. Relatives, most of which are native to Eastern Europe and China, include Osmanthus, ash, jasmine, lilac and olive.

Salix (pussy willow) is a member of the Salicaceae family and is related to cottonwood, poplar and aspen.

3 beautiful colors. The range of colors for blooming branches is as broad as their varieties. Prunus flowers are pastel pink, bright pink or white; Spiraea blooms are white or pink, depending on the species; Forsythia blooms are yellow; and Chaenomeles (flowering quince) is available in peach, pink, orange, red and white. Pussy-willow catkins are fuzzy and have a silvery, gray-white color.

4 frosty times. Blooming branches are generally available in the late winter and early spring. They can be forced into bloom earlier with special care (see No. 8).

5 eye, eye, sir. Purchase blooming branches before the blossoms open to avoid damage. Look for full buds that are beginning to show color or open, and watch out for shriveled bark or buds, which indicate dehydration.

6 cut, don’t mash. Unpack the bunches and remove bindings upon arrival. Cut at least 1 inch from each stem, and dip or place the stems into a hydration solution. (Do not mash, smash or split woody branch stem ends; these practices actually inhibit water absorption because they damage the vascular systems of the branches.) Finally, place the stems into a clean bucket containing a properly prepared warm flower-food solution.

7 a swig for a twig. Blooming branches will respond to a drink of 1 percent ethanol (such as found in gin or vodka) added to their flower-food solution. Additional sugar also will assist with bud development; however, additional sugar will increase the growth of bacteria, so either change the solution every day or add a capful or so of chlorine bleach to the solution to help control the bacteria.

8 forced occurrences. To force branches into bloom, place them into warm (120 F) flower-food solution with additional sugar for 12 hours. Keep the humidity high by covering the branches and container with plastic or misting the branches frequently. Replace the solution frequently, to keep it warm, and recut the stems to keep them open.

9 cold storage is ok. To allow branches to bloom at their own rate, store them in a brightly lit, warm, humid area until they reach the desired stage of development. Then store them in a floral refrigerator at 34 F to 38 F.

10 allergy safe. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) lists blooming branches as allergy-safe pollen-producing plants.

Thanks to Roy Borodkin of Brannan Street Wholesale, San Francisco Flower Market, San Francisco, Calif. Some information also from, and

Steven W. Brown, AIFD, is a professor and department chair of horticulture and floristry at City College of San Francisco with 28 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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