<i> Helichrysum bracteatum </i> : Strawflower : Annual with paperlike flower heads
It couldn’t have taken our ancestors too long to figure out what to do with this flower, because strawflowers look dried even when they’re still on the plant; the stiff petals radiate from a papery center, much like a small daisy dipped in starch. Each 2- or 3-foot stalk will have a small bouquet of flowers in yellow, orange, red (including a wonderful burgundy), white or pink. Dwarf forms, such as “Bikini,” (about 15 inches tall) are also available.
Strawflowers are very easy to grow in average soil and full sun; keep them weeded and mulched but not heavily watered. Their stalks have very few leaves and are not attractive, so it’s best to plant a lower-growing flower in front.
Strawflowers are wonderful in fresh bouquets too, but their reputation is based, deservedly, on their everlasting quality. Come December and January, cheerful little strawflowers brighten a room with summery colors.
The only thing that makes the dried flowers look old is dust. I haven’t yet devised a way to vacuum them without losing every petal; shaking or blowing doesn’t work much better.
Making an Arrangement
If you intend to use strawflowers in dried arrangements, cut them just before the flower opens, when it is a fat, little promise--or when the outer petals have broken free but the center is still tight. If you wait until the flower is in full bloom, your dried beauties will look too mature, almost ripped open, and the colors will be a bit faded.
Gather a bunch of stems, hang them upside down in a cool, dry place out of the sun, and in about two weeks you’ll have dried flowers.
Then comes the hard part: Remove each flower head by cutting it cleanly away from the stem right under the flower. Using florist wire, which you have already fashioned with a tiny hook in one end, stick the hook into the flower, from the stem end out the top; carefully slide the hook down into the flower until it catches. This leaves you with a pretty bloom on the end of an unsightly wire stem, which may explain why many strawflowers are used in wreaths rather than upright bouquets--the wires are hidden in all the greenery.
It is certainly possible to use strawflowers without this wiry step, but the plant stems are ugly and fragile, disintegrating in about a year.
Until the last few years, strawflowers were not a big bedding-plant item, but they are now frequently available in pony packs and 4-inch pots.
If your local nursery does not carry them, ask the nursery to order them from Do Right’s Bedding Plant Growers in Oxnard--or grow them from seed.
Fortunately, many catalogues carry them (and several boast a long list of other everlastings): Park Seed Co., Cokesbury Road, Greenwood, S.C. 29647-0001; Seeds Blum, Idaho Stage Road, Boise, Ida. 83706; Nichols Garden Nursery, 1190 N. Pacific Highway, Albany, Ore. 97321; W. Atlee Burpee & Co., Warminster, Pa. 18974; Pinetree Garden Seeds, New Gloucester, Me. 04260; Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Foss Hill Road, Albion, Me. 04910; Good Seed Co., Star Route Box 73A, Oroville, Wash. 98844, and J. L. Hudson, Seedsman, Box 1058, Redwood City, Calif. 94064.