Today’s man-made botanicals look and feel so real that it’s difficult to distinguish them from their fresh counterparts—and they’re gaining legions of devotees.

Floral designs on this page by Andie Muller, AIFD, CFD, FSMD; The Flower Studio Photo by Janira Photography

It used to be easy for florists to spot a “silk” flower a mile away. Not anymore. Permanent botanicals, as they are now known, are designed with such high quality these days that they not only look exactly like their fresh counterparts but also feel and, in some cases, smell just like them.

The evolution of “natural realism” within the permanent botanical industry is currying favor with many florists—even those who admittedly are not fans of faux. Permanents have opened a new avenue for designers looking to pivot their businesses due to the pandemic and wanting to diversify their offerings. They offer a long-lasting and, in some cases, affordable alternative to fresh flowers in event installations, corporate work and weddings. The addition of permanent botanicals in fresh arrangements enables customers to enjoy their flowers in not only the days to come but also the weeks and months to come.

Like so many designers, Veronica Sallee, owner of Burtonsville, Md.-based The Blooming Bohemian, works primarily with fresh botanicals. However, she experienced a definite shift after COVID-19 hit. “My clientele has changed, and people are requesting more intimate, longer-lasting designs, so I am doing more ‘mixed’ work these days,” she shares.

Sallee says she’s been doing a lot of collaboration work with a balloon artist during this time of scaled-down events. Mixing dried and permanent botanicals with fresh flowers and foliage as part of these installations has become standard fare for her. “These days, it’s important to be flexible and able to work seamlessly with different floral media,” she offers. Floral designs on this page by Andie Muller, AIFD, CFD, FSMD; The Flower Studio Photo by Janira Photography

Floral designs on this page by Danna DiElsi, The Silk Touch Photos courtesy of Danna DiElsi

Andreia “Andie” Muller, AIFD, CFD, FSMD, owner and head designer of The Flower Studio, in Altamonte Springs, Fla., couldn’t agree more. Muller, who has owned her store since 2008, just launched her first permanent botanical wedding floral collection. In blushes, creams and whites, it is fittingly called “The Blush Collection,” and she has another collection in the works in a burgundy, cream and white palette and called “The Floret Collection.”

While Muller says she typically uses about 90 percent fresh materials, with some permanent botanicals mixed in, the idea for offering “The Blush Collection” came about during the pandemic. “I have seen so many people postpone and cancel their weddings because of COVID, but they still want to celebrate without spending much,” she says. “So, I asked one of the couples who inquired about my work if they were open to permanent botanical rentals because, that way, they could get everything they wanted within their budget. They agreed, and that is how I started.”

Muller, who is originally from Brazil, says she enjoys the flexibility of permanent botanicals. “Rustic, classic, trendy, timeless, over the top, contemporary, traditional—you name it, and I will make it happen,” she states.

And while Muller says that most people are used to hearing the words fake, silk, faux or plastic associated with permanent flowers, she insists that educating your clientele is key. “When I tell clients I do permanent botanicals, they ask ‘What is that?’ without knowing that it’s beautiful flowers that aren’t fresh.”

Photos courtesy of Winward Floral & Seasonal Decor

David Botchick, owner and president of Pioneer Imports & Wholesale in Berea, Ohio, says permanent botanicals can be a tremendous source of revenue for florists and are ideal complements to fresh flowers for several reasons. “They enable florists to have merchandise on hand to sell, regardless of what’s happening in the fresh industry, especially with the current transportation challenges,” explains Botchick, who’s been a producer of permanent botanicals for more than 40 years. “They also enable florists to offer specific flowers to their customers, regardless of whether those flowers are in season or not.”

Botchick reports that Pioneer’s specialty is upper-middle-class floral bushes in both trend-forward and classic botanically correct colors. “These versatile products are used by thousands of florists around the U.S. for everyday arrangements, home décor and weddings,” he elaborates.

Botchick began Pioneer in 1977, at which time he was selling macramé to local florists. As the florists began requesting other items, he went to a “silk” flower importer to see how much it would cost to buy a line of flowers

“Because there were multiple stems in multiple colors required, it was a large investment,” he recalls. “I was still a very small business, working out of the attic of my rented house and the trunk of my Oldsmobile, and I could not afford an entire line of flowers and colors.”  So Botchick asked the importer what he could buy in just one color. “He said, ‘green plants,’ so that’s where I started!”

Fast-forward to today, and permanent botanicals are a huge part of mainstream décor and, therefore, a huge part of Pioneer’s business. “Permanents are featured by every major home décor.

Danna DiElsi, owner of The Silk Touch in Norwalk, Conn., says the wedding market for permanents is growing by leaps and bounds. “Especially when the permanents look and feel just like fresh flowers and brides realize that all of those beautiful flowers can be kept or made into other arrangements—and create a lasting memory,” she assures.

DiElsi, who got her start more than 20 years ago renting permanent-flower arrangements on a monthly or seasonal basis to restaurants, corporations and hotels, says she’s always been intrigued by how realistic permanent botanicals have become and how much time and artistry goes into making each stem. “It’s quite a process,” she reports. “Even in today’s world, it can take up to one hour to produce a single rose!”

Using high-quality products is the key to designing with permanents, DiElsi advises. “I work only with high-end permanent botanicals, occasionally adding in some dried product, which adds a lot to the realism and texture of my pieces,” she informs. “Only the finest quality will give a beautiful and realistic result that will last for a long time.”

Another permanent botanicals manufacturer, Winward International, based in Fremont, Calif., offers not only a line of high-end permanents called “Natural Touch Collection,” which look and feel exactly like their fresh counterparts, but also “Natural Touch Softener,” a spray that keeps the permanent blooms soft and supple so they continue to look and feel real. Taking it a step further, Winward also has created “Natural Touch Floral Refresher,” in four scents—Rose, Casablanca Lily, Peony and Lily-of-the-Valley, which adds the scents of fresh flowers.

With permanent botanical companies like Winward and Pioneer offering such natural, organic-looking florals, foliage, succulents and branches, DiElsi says it’s never been more difficult to tell the difference between fresh and faux. “It’s so fun to see and hear the expressions of folks who can’t believe the botanicals aren’t real,” she enthuses.