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A wildflower from the plains becomes a popular cut flower

It’s an alluring flower that many people admire but very few know its name. Is it a rose? A peony? A tulip? A poppy? Although frequently mistaken for all of these, it’s actually lisianthus — commonly called “lizzy.” With its delicate, unfurling trumpets of either white, purple, cream, lavender, pink, peach, yellow or bi-colored blooms in single and double-petalled varieties, lizzy is capturing the hearts of flower customers and has been gaining in popularity over the last decade.

“We use a lot of lisianthus from spring to early fall in our everyday design work and our wedding work,” said Bradley Gaines, director of floral for United Supermarkets in Lubbock, TX.

Designers and customers appreciate the long-lasting blooms, versatility and color variety for arrangements and bouquets. With proper care and handling, lizzy can have a vase life of 10-15 days. The average length of the stem is 24 inches so it gives height and visual power to an arrangement. The delicate, round blooms add mass while maintaining a soft texture and the florets are also often used in corsages.

“Lisianthus is a floral designer’s best friend,” said Alice Grazziani, director of floral for Gelson’s in Encino, CA. “The multiple soft-petal bloom looks similar to a large rose. They are delicate, and add elegance and value to any floral arrangement or bouquet.”

Another advantage for some consumers, Grazziani told The Produce News, is that lizzy has no fragrance.

“When our customers ask for flowers without fragrance, you can bet we offer California-grown lisianthus,” said Grazziani.

The lisianthus variety grown today, Eustoma Grandiflorium, was developed from the prairie gentians, or Texas bluebells, that grow naturally in the warm prairie regions of the southern United States, Mexico and northern South America.

The name Eustoma comes from the Greek roots “eu” (beautiful, good) and “stoma” (mouth), referring to the attractive funnel-shaped, unfolding blooms. In the language of flowers, lisianthus symbolizes appreciation.

California farmers produce most of the lisianthus cut flowers grown domestically because it grows best in lots of light and sandy soil, with careful watering.

Of the 8.5 million stems sold in the United States in 2012, 7.5 million were grown in California.

Jimmy Zheng, grower for Kitayama Bros. in Watsonville, CA, told The Produce News KB has been growing lisianthus since 1997. “We grow about 1.5 million stems a year,” Zheng said. “Our main production starts in April and then we cut heavily through November.”

Commercial production of lisianthus has increased dramatically in recent years, spurred by the development of excellent cultivars (mainly in Japan) in a wide range of colors and forms, according to the Postharvest Technology Center at the University of California -Davis.

Because lisianthus is sensitive to gravity, the stems will bend upward if the flowers are held horizontal at ambient temperatures, so it is often packed and transported in vertical hampers in bunches of 5s or 10s.

Lane DeVries, president and chief executive officer for the Sun Valley Group in Arcata, CA, told The Produce News that his company has been growing lizzy for about eight years and harvests in excess of a million stems from May through October at its Oxnard farm.

“It’s a wonderful summer crop that loves the Southern California environment,” DeVries said.

“Far and away our most popular color is purple,” said Gerrit Vanderkooy, head grower for the Sun Valley Floral Group in Oxnard, CA, in a recent online interview. “It is a really rich purple that is very saturated. After purple, it’s white, followed by pink, rose and some of the bi-colors.”

Vanderkooy added that Sun Valley grows double blooms, as opposed to the European farms that still grow single blooms. “The double blooms have much more color, texture and girth than the single,” said Vanderkooy.

“Right now lisianthus is a really a big wedding flower, especially the pastel colors and the white,” Vanderkooy said. “The natural look is ‘in’ and lizzy is ideal for this theme.”

Most California flower farmers grow lisianthus only nine months of the year. During the winter months (December-February) it grows very slowly due to lack of light. Even with added artificial light the production is only half of what it is between April-November.

To fill demand in the United States for lisianthus, especially during the winter months, it is imported from Israel and Holland.