Eucalypts (floristry)

24.05.17

Eucalyptus is the common name for several genera of flowering plants and shrubs in the myrtle family (Myrtaceae) and is used to refer to species belonging to the genera Eucalyptus and Corymbia. Members of these genera dominate the tree flora of Australia and there are more than 700 species of eucalyptus.

Overview

Species and hybrids of Eucalyptus and Corymbia are used in the cut flower industry for foliage, buds, flowers and gumnuts. The different market segments require different species and management.

There are four leaf phases in the development of a eucalyptus plant: the ‘seedling’, ‘juvenile’, ‘intermediate’ and ‘adult’ phases but there is no definite transitional point between the phases. The intermediate phase, when the largest leaves are often formed, is the stage used for most cut foliage production. Trees grown for foliage require heavy pruning to maintain juvenile leaf growth.

The most readily recognisable characteristics of eucalyptus species are the distinctive flowers and fruit (capsules or "gumnuts"). Flowers are mostly a mass of fluffy stamens which may be white, cream, yellow, pink or red, and the flowers have no petals. In bud, the stamens are enclosed in a cap and as the stamens expand, the cap is forced off, and the many showy stamens emerge.

Growers entering the cut flower industry are encouraged to do extensive research on the inherent risks and challenges throughout the value chain. Eucalyptus trees generally produce a large quantity of harvestable product per tree, but much is sold at a low cost, with only flowering stems attracting higher prices.

The wildflower industry, including eucalyptus producers, is a mature industry in Australia. It has an active research & development program that assists industry members develop better production techniques, works towards industry-wide standards and undertakes market development activities. The wildflower industry is represented by WildFlowers Australia, which represents a diverse range of industry participants, including growers, buyers, wholesalers, exporters and importers, and research and extension specialists.

Facts and figures

  • Wildflower cultivation can achieve better returns per unit area of land and per unit of water for irrigation, than many other agricultural enterprises
  • Growing wildflowers generally requires fewer inputs of pesticides, fertiliser and water than growing traditional flowers such as roses, carnations and annuals
  • Various species of eucalyptus can be grown for foliage, buds, flowers or nuts
  • The foliage and gumnuts have a very good vase life but the flowers have a short vase life
  • Eucalypts are susceptible to phytophthora root rot although they range in tolerance to the root disease; myrtle rust may become a concern for growers if local conditions favour this disease
  • The availability of efficient and economic refrigerated transport to market or export airports is an important consideration for commercial production

Production status

The Australian wildflower industry (including eucalypts) is located mainly in Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and south east Queensland.

Eucalypt foliage for cut flowers has been cultivated for many years in southern France, Italy, the United States of America and South American countries. Niche markets for the Australian product have been identified in Asia, Europe, the United States and Canada for both buds and foliage. Australian product has a market advantage when the supply from the northern hemisphere countries is in short supply.

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Map of current and potential growing regions

Uses

Eucalypts are used in the cut flower industry for foliage, buds, flowers and nuts.

A range of eucalypt species are used for foliage in flower displays, offering green or silvery grey colours, and more recently red-maroon.

In many species, the juvenile foliage has round or oval waxy leaves with a silvery sheen, providing attractive and textural foliage to enhance a wide range of traditional flowers and wildflowers.

Eucalypt foliage has a long vase life of 10–20 days. Corymbia ficifolia is commonly grown for flowers and nuts, and used in vibrant short-term displays for functions and in sympathy designs. As flowers they are available in a range of colours from cream through pink, yellow, orange to deep crimson.

Buds and gumnuts vary in size and may be quite large, and are suitable for a multitude of design styles, including bunches, bowl arrangements and wiring.

Production Requirements

Growing regions

Current production of eucalyptus products for cut foliage (including flowers, buds and nuts) is in the coastal regions of Queensland, New South Wales and southern Western Australia. The coastal region of south east South Australia and the many parts of Victoria also have areas under eucalypt production.

Soil type

Soil type, salinity and pH tolerance vary widely across the eucalyptus genera and there are species adapted to most regions of Australia.

Climate

Eucalypt species are widely adapted to temperate, subtropical and tropical climates. Most eucalypt species require a minimum annual rainfall of 200mm, and many growers use supplementary irrigation to achieve reliable production levels. 

Corymbia ficifolia, one of the eucalypts most cultivated for flowers, is suited to temperate climates with low rainfall and humidity, but specialist nurseries have selected a range of rootstocks to allow production in a greater range of climates and soil types; however, it is susceptible to severe frost.

Varieties

There are a wide range of Eucalyptus and Corymbia species used in the cut flower industry; and development of particular lines of species has occurred to produce market-suited products. Species cultivated for foliage include E. cordata (heart-leaved silver gum), E. cinerea (Argyle apple), E. globulus (Tasmanian blue gum), E. gunnii (cider gum), E. pulverulenta (silver-leaved mountain gum) and the cultivar of E. cladocalyx EUC78 ‘Vintage Red’™, which has red to deep maroon leaves.

Eucalypt buds are harvested from E. kruseana, E. x tetragona , E. tetraptera, E. forrestiana and E. rhodantha. Eucalypt nuts are widely sourced from E. x tetragona but other species and hybrids also provide attractive product.

Most of the flowering gum sold on the domestic market is derived from C. ficifolia (formerly E. ficifolia) and hybrids of C. ficifolia and C. ptychocarpa (a tropical species). Flowers are also harvested from E. caesia (silver princess) and E. tetraptera (four-winged mallee).

Superior selections and hybrids have been developed by grafting onto more broadly adapted rootstocks. Grafted plants for eucalypt cut flowers include the varieties Dwarf Orange, Summer Beauty, Summer Red, Summer Glory, Summer Snow, Watermelon, Apricot Dawn and Scarlet. Some of these varieties are protected by Plant Breeders Rights.

For further information on eucalypt varieties for cut flower production refer to the publications What Cut Flower is that? The essential care and handling guide for cut flower professionals and Quality specifications for Eucalyptus flowers.

Planting and crop management

Some eucalypts are sensitive to the dieback root rot but there is variation in susceptibility within the genus. The soil of a prospective site for a eucalypt plantation should be tested for root diseases before planting; if tests for pathogens are positive, another site should be chosen or a tolerant species selected.

Sites should be deep ripped prior to planting to ensure there is no soil compaction. Plantations of eucalypts are established from seedlings, from rooted cuttings or grafted plants. Plants are usually planted out when they are 30cm high. Mulching is recommended and some growers use mounded beds if necessary to increase aeration in the root zone, improve drainage and salt leaching. Weed mat may also be used on the edges of raised beds to support the soil. Tree guards are also recommended to provide shelter and protection against damage from pests such as rabbits and kangaroos.

An appropriately balanced fertiliser regime is recommended and this may be applied by topdressing or through the irrigation system. Regular applications of fertiliser, including trace elements, will encourage the production of healthy stems, buds and flowers, and maintain soil nutrient status, particularly important for plants that are severely pruned at harvest.

Pruning is essential to ensure optimum production but the nature of the pruning will differ according to end use. For foliage production, the plants need to be heavily pruned to ensure that they maintain juvenile leaves and to encourage long stem length. For bud flower or gumnut production, the plants must be in the adult state so pruning is less severe but remains important to develop strong straight stems for the next harvest.

For further general information on planting and crop management refer to the publication New Crop Industries Handbook. For information on irrigation refer to the Wildflower Irrigation Handbook.

Weeds, pests and diseases

The use of deep ripping and cultivation prior to establishing a plantation can reduce the weed burden and further control of weeds can be attained by using mulch.

There are many insect pests that attack eucalypts, including sawfly larvae, leaf miners, sucking insects, borers, gall forming insects, mites, caterpillars, beetles and grasshoppers. These pests can be controlled by a range of readily available insecticides. Careful attention to plantation layout and good plant hygiene practices can reduce pest incidence and the need to use pesticides.

Eucalypts are also sensitive to the dieback root rot, but there is variation in susceptibility between species. Leaf spot and shoot blight fungi also affect eucalypts but can be controlled with fungicides.

As Myrtle rust, which has a wide host range across the Myrtaceae plant family, does not yet occur throughout Australia, there are restrictions on the movement of plants or plant material in the Myrtaceae family, including eucalyptus, from Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, to South Australia and the Northern Territory; and there are complete bans on movement of material to Tasmania and Western Australia. The quarantine legislation currently requires inspection of the place of production and a ‘Property Freedom’ accreditation provided, as well as frequent application of approved fungicides by growers and inspection of the consignment.

Myrtle rust may also become an issue for eucalyptus producers, particularly when the plants have a flush of new growth. Relative sensitivity of different eucalyptus species to myrtle rust should be carefully observed as it will vary between species and different environments.

The industry body WildFlowers Australia has general advice and useful information available on pest and disease management. Further information on weeds, pests and diseases of eucalypts can also be found in the publication New Crop Industries Handbook.

Infrastructure Requirements

Irrigated agriculture and horticulture enterprises generally have compatible infrastructure to adapt to growing eucalypts. Infrastructure and equipment for planting and crop management include machinery for site preparation, tractors for mowing and towing flower trailers, fertiliser spreaders, pesticide application equipment and irrigation infrastructure and equipment.

Harvesting and pruning equipment may include various hand picking tools, hedge trimmers, and/or machinery adapted or designed for mechanical pruning and harvesting.

For processing and preparing stems for market, the basic equipment and infrastructure required is a packing shed with a cool room and facilities to apply appropriate fungicide and insecticide treatments to the harvested stems.

A reliable source of high-quality water for irrigation will be required to achieve maximum production and hydrate harvested product.

Harvesting & Processing

Foliage stems should be cut in the coolest part of the day and immediately placed into water. Leaves are usually stripped from the bottom 15m of stem and the stems may be dipped into anti-transpirants to reduce water loss. The stems are then placed in a holding solution, which consists of clean potable water and held at 2-4°C. Stems treated this way may have a vase life of up to two weeks or longer, depending on the species. Sometimes the foliage is treated with glycerine to preserve it. This is undertaken by placing the foliage in a glycerine and water solution and gives the foliage an attractive sheen with a supple texture.

The flowering season for eucalypt species usually lasts from late November to February. Harvesting stems for buds, flowers or nuts requires post-harvest treatment similar to that for leaves. The foliage and gumnuts have a very good vase life, but the flowers have a short vase life and if not handled carefully may last as little as one day.

Flowering gum blossom will open quickly so it is important to ensure they reach the customer as soon as possible. The ideal stage to market gum blossom is when the buds are closed but rounded and showing colour, with about 30% of the caps lifting. Effective cooling soon after harvest is important to retain quality and maximise vase life. Preferably, the stems should be placed in buckets of holding solution and cooled to 10°C, immediately on entry into the shed. After cooling, the flowers are bunched and graded, and then cooled again to 2–4°C by either forced-air cooling (if boxed) or by holding overnight in a cool room in post-harvest solution.

For further information on harvesting and processing of eucalypts for cut flowers refer to the publications Postharvest Handling of Australian Flowers from Australian Native Plants and Related Species – A Practical Manual  and New Crop Industries Handbook.

Markets & Marketing

There is a wide range of market opportunities for wildflower (including but not limited to Eucalypt) growers. Markets can be local, regional, national or international and each has its own range of management requirements.

At the local level, wildflowers can be sold to local florists, farm or road side stalls, farmers’ markets, restaurants, motels and resorts. Ideally, the farm will be located within an hour’s drive of these customers, and deliveries can be made twice a week. Regular supply and excellent service will be critical to maintain the market.

Individually or in cooperative arrangements, growers may sell to florists that require a year-round supply of a variety of lines. Flowers need to be packed in flower boxes and delivered direct to florists over a large geographical area. Setting up an effective and economic transport network is critical, as is keeping in close contact with customers about orders and payments.

If the flowers are produced close to a capital city, there is the opportunity to sell at flower markets. Growers may sell their product from a stall at the market, engage an agent to sell their product or sell to a wholesaler.

Eucalypt flowers are generally not exported due to their delicate nature and short vase life. Stems with gumnuts are generally sold on the domestic market as insects are difficult to eradicate. On the export market, competing product from overseas producers may set a lower price than Australian growers would accept.

Growing for export requires careful planning, based on thorough market research and an export marketing plan. Some export advisers recommend that growers learn how to sell flowers on the domestic market successfully, before taking on the export market. Only top-quality product should be exported, therefore the farm production system will need an excellent quality control system. Few growers are large enough to meet these requirements alone, which has given rise to the formation of grower co-operatives that allow several smaller producers to market their product together and thereby gain more power in the marketplace.

It was estimated that at least three-quarters of Australia’s wildflower production was exported. However, due to unfavourable foreign exchange rates and the challenges of growing and marketing, many industry experts believe a greater proportion of production is sold on the domestic market. Reliable industry statistics are not available so the true number of growers is unknown, particularly as many are part-time growers with other business or farming interests, who may grow one or several species of wildflowers, depending on their individual circumstances. Most flower wholesalers include wildflowers as part of their range and several specialist flower exporters focus on wildflower products. There are thousands of florists and supermarkets who sell the flowers within Australia.

Eucalypt flowers are generally not exported due to their delicate nature and short vase life. Stems with gumnuts are generally sold on the domestic market as insects are difficult to eradicate. On the export market, competing product from overseas producers may set a lower price than Australian growers would accept.

Excellent information and advice on understanding markets for Australian wildflowers is contained in the publication Getting Started in Wildflower Growing. The industry body, WildFlowers Australia, offers a range of contact information for businesses along the supply chain including nurseries, growers, wholesalers and exporters.

Risks & Regulations

Risks/Challenges

The greatest risk associated with cut flower production (including eucalypts) is not researching the enterprise sufficiently before investing and establishing the business. Extensive research should be carried out on what species (and varieties to grow) and into which market/s the flowers will be sold.

Equally important to market research, is gaining a clear understanding of the personal attributes needed to be a successful flower grower and to operate a profitable flower-growing business; and a good understanding of capital investment and time to earn returns on investment. Chapters 1 and 2 of the publication Getting Started in Wildflower Growing provide excellent guidelines for working through these considerations.

Once the business is established, many of the risks and challenges of cut flower production are associated with markets and marketing. These include understanding market requirements and volumes; competition from cheaper product available (especially on the export market, though flowering eucalypts are not exported); unfavourable exchange rates; judging demand and securing orders prior to harvest; and oversupply of product driving down prices so that returns to the grower are less than the cost of production.

While excellent horticultural management will go a long way to achieving consistent flower quality, there are several potential risks (weather, pests and disease) that can only be managed to a limited extent; though good managers will be better prepared to cope with these. Crop damage, especially close to harvest time, can significantly reduce the number of stems suitable for selling and therefore that season’s income.

Logistical challenges and risks are faced when supplying flowers to florists. The flowers may need to be delivered directly over a large geographical area. Therefore, setting up an effective transport network is critical, as is keeping in close contact with customers about orders and payments.

Regulatory considerations

Some Australian native wildflower species are protected by law and state and territory government authorities administer legislation restricting the commercial use of these species. This does not currently apply to eucalyptus species.

Publications

Publications/information

Emerging animal and plant industries: Their value to Australia RIRDC Publication (2014)

Quality Specifications for Eucalyptus Flowers RIRDC Publication (2010)

Getting Started in Wildflower Growing RIRDC Publication (2013)

What Cut Flower is that? The essential care and handling guide for cut flower professionals RIRDC Publication (2013)

Wildflower Irrigation Handbook RIRDC Publication (2013)

Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority – for information on the use of chemicals and pesticides in agriculture

Industry Bodies

WildFlowers Australia represents the wildflower industry, including growers, wholesalers, exporters and importers, flower and foliage buyers, research and extension specialists and plant growers.

Flowers Australia – the peak body representing all sectors of the cut flower and foliage industry

Image Gallery

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Eucalyptus buds on the tree

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Corymbia ficifolia gum flowers

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Eucalyptus tetragona seed capsules on the tree

Related Publications

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What Cut Flower is That? The essential care and handling guide for cut flower professionals

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Quality Specifications for Eucalyptus Flowers

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Wildflower Irrigation Handbook

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New Crop Industries Handbook