Winter is fast approaching and most of us miss the sight of green foliage and happy flowers when the nights draw in. While those first few frosty mornings are exciting and the odd dark evening is a cosy opportunity to enjoy a night in with friends or alone with a good book, the ongoing dreariness outside soon gets old.
If the long nights have spurred you to buy some beautiful artificial plants from our range, as it has for so many, then you may be wondering what exactly your artificial plants are made of, especially since they look so realistic! Today, we’ll answer all your questions (and more) about what artificial plants are made of and why we love them so much.
Are fake plants, artificial plants, and permanent botanicals all the same thing?
Yes, fake plants, artificial plants, and permanent botanicals all mean the same thing, although you’ll rarely find a high-quality artificial plant called a “fake” plant. “Fake” is generally a word with negative connotations, so if you’re browsing for artificial plants online or in-store, a label saying “fake” plants will likely suggest that they are cheap and look it, too.
“Artificial plants” is the most accepted term – since they are artificial plants, and “permanent botanicals” is the term most used by florists, especially when artificial plants first became popular. The term is still used, but since the average person does not think to search for “permanent botanicals” when they’re looking for an artificial plant for their home, it isn’t widely used.
Despite the difference in terms, they don’t have any connections to what the plants are actually made of, though historically, many permanent botanicals were made of silk.
When were artificial plants invented?
Artificial plants have a long history that started thousands of years ago, long before plastic was invented. It is believed that artificial flowers were developed shortly after the discovery of silk, which is attributed to Chinese royalty over 1,500 years ago.
The discovery of silk was an entirely accidental one made by Leizu, the wife of the Yellow Emperor. Enjoying a cup of jasmine tea in the garden, Leizu noticed that a silk moth’s cocoon had fallen into her cup and started to unravel. The moth’s cocoon was made of one long, soft thread, and Leizu realised that she could create a fabric from this material. If you’d like to learn more about this story, we dove into the history of silk in-depth in our post: History of Artificial Plants.
While Chinese royals and upper classes wore silk flowers in their hair, other cultures also created artificial flowers. The Romans used wax to make realistic and intricately shaped flowers, and the Egyptians made wreaths out of animal horns, which were extremely beautiful but not exactly soft!
Silk flowers became popular in Europe in the 1100s, quickly spreading across the Mediterranean to Italy and then France, and then of course across the channel to England, and then further across the pond to America. The Victorians enjoyed an overly-decorated aesthetic, and soon, every available surface featured extensive flower arrangements, artificial or otherwise. These flowers were not just made of silk, by this time, but of velvet, satin, crepe, muslin, gauze, palm leaves, porcelain, wood, and even metal.
Wreaths and ornaments featuring artificial fruit in the Italian style of Della Robbia became popular in the 1920s and ‘30s but were less popular within a decade or so. By the 1940s, celluloid was a popular material for artificial flowers, but it was highly flammable, causing several deadly fires. After this, celluloid flowers were banned from being imported from Japan, and plastic soon took over the artificial flower industry.
What are artificial plants made from?
Most modern artificial plants and flowers are made from quality plastics and fabrics. These fabrics and plastics look and often feel real, so you often have to touch them to know that they’re fake, and even then, many plants with a rubber look can be extremely convincing.
Polyester – this has become one the most popular fabrics for artificial flower petals because it’s so low-cost, durable, and can easily accept glues and dyes.
Polythene (PE) – this is the most prevalent form of plastic in the world, used for a huge range of products. You’re likely feet away (or less!) from polythene right now. These products can usually be recycled and used again, though it does depend on what other materials have been used. This is one of the most popular materials used for flower stems and leaf stems, as well as for berries and fruits.
Silk – artificial flowers and some leaves are still made from natural silk, but most “silk” flowers and leaves today are made from synthetic fabrics or alternative natural fabrics, such as rayon and cotton.
Silk isn’t always as easy or cost-effective to source, so many manufacturers advertise their plants or flowers as “silk-style” rather than actual silk. While florists once looked down on artificial and dried plants, silk flowers are now revered for their versatility. Today, florists even use them to enhance live plants and mix them with fresh blossoms. While this tradition is said to have been started by the Chinese who perfected the art of creating elaborate floral replicas, it was the Europeans who turned silk flower-making into a business.
Wood – many of our artificial plants use real wood or bamboo for the trunk or stem of the plant to give them a realistic look and feel.
Metal – many artificial flowers and plants will use wire to shape the plant, either to provide structure or to allow a different position, as may be necessary for a flower arrangement. As you’d imagine, metal has no place being seen in a plant or flower but is instrumental in maintaining its structural integrity and form.
Thermocol (Polystyrene) - this synthetic polymer is made from a monomer called styrene. Polystyrene can come in solid or foamed form, but general-use polystyrene is hard, brittle, and clear. It’s an inexpensive material and is often used to make custom boxes for packaging and posting plants. Some manufacturers poke holes in the bottom to allow drainage- in this case, thermocol containers can be used as plant pots.
Rubber - it may seem funny to have artificial plants made of rubber given that natural rubber itself is produced from plants. But rubber can be an excellent choice, especially when rubber responds well to UV-resistant treatment. It’s light, durable, and easy to source, making it a popular choice for artificial plants today.
Where are artificial plants made?
Today, artificial plants are made all over the world, but many are still manufactured in China, in the Guangdong Province. Other key areas of production are Thailand and Honduras. While many of the pieces for artificial plants are made by machine, most quality artificial plants and flowers are still assembled by hand. This adds a significant amount of value to a plant or bunch of flowers as the manufacturer can charge extra for handmade plants and flowers.
Some plant manufacturers say their plants are UV-resistant. What does this mean?
Many artificial plant manufacturers make their outdoor plants UV resistant by adding a chemical stabiliser, light blocker, or absorber during manufacturing. This process means that the outer layer of the plants can absorb the UV light so that the plastic’s colour and structure are retained.
When these stabilisers are added during manufacturing, plants are known as inherently UV protected. Such artificial plants are often ideal as all of the foliage is evenly sprayed by the UV-protecting chemical. Artificial plants that are sprayed may not be evenly protected against UV rays, resulting in patchy UV damage.
With an extra layer of UV protection, these plants and flowers can last longer, which is ideal for those responsible for decorating restaurants, bars, and hotels. In other words, UV-resistant artificial plants are ideal for any business or group that wants to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere but doesn’t have the time or resources to maintain real plants.
If you want to learn more about UV resistance and what you need to look for, we have a guide you can read here: Everything You Need to Know About UV Resistant Artificial Plants & Trees.
How are artificial plants made?
Artificial flowers and plants are made using various materials depending on the manufacturer and their chosen market. Generally, polyester is the manufacturers’ fabric of choice due to its durability, low cost, and ability to take on dyes and glues. As you can imagine, it makes sense that the most durable, cheapest, and adaptable materials would become the most popular over time.
For higher-end silk plants and flowers, silk, rayon, and cotton are the preferred materials. Upscale manufacturers also use berries, dried flowers, and feathers. These are often made with tapioca or flour base as an emphasis is often placed on using naturally derived materials.
White silk, cotton, and rayon are used for most leaves and petals, regardless of the colour they’ll be in the end. The fabric is die-cut into various leaf and petal sizes and shapes for any one plant or flower. These leaves and petals are dyed using cotton balls and paintbrushes. The painter touches color onto the leaves and petals, starting with the edges and working toward the middle. The process of dying one leaf can take a whole hour.
The leaves and petals are placed into heated molds to shape them, giving them individual wrinkles, curves, and undulations. Some leaves and petals are stiffened using thin wires that are inserted by hand, with glue added later so the wire stays in place.
The separate leaves are generally assembled individually, but it may take several leaves to form a single stem. When the time comes to create a bunch of flowers or a plant, wire that has been cut to prescribed lengths is covered with floral paper or self-sticking tape. Finally, the assemblers add the flowers one by one, alongside the smaller leaves to the stem.
What are the benefits of having artificial plants at home?
These days, many artificial plants look so realistic, it’s difficult to tell if they’re even artificial. Aside from the obvious aesthetic advantage of artificial foliage, here are some benefits:
- They don’t trigger allergies. Those with allergies to certain plants may experience hay fever-like symptoms such as itchy or watery eyes, a runny nose, sneezing, and even fatigue. If a plant is manufactured rather than grown, it’s far less likely to cause irritation or discomfort to someone with allergies.
- They don’t require any watering, pruning, fertilising, or repotting, making them ideal if you don’t have the time (or patience!) to maintain a host of houseplants. Similarly, artificial plants allow you to go away on holiday for as long as you’d like without having to ask a neighbour or relative to pop by and tend to your leafy friends!
- They look the same all year-round. If you’re the owner of real plants, you’ll know that some of them thrive during certain seasons, while others look sad and droopy. Artificial plants are consistently perky, meaning you can enjoy their foliage 365 days of the year without any effort!
- They aren’t toxic to pets. Certain innocuous-looking plants like the peace lily, elephant ear, devil’s ivy, and snake plant (mother-in-law’s tongue) can be toxic if ingested. If you have children or pets around, you likely don’t want to have to worry about taking a trip to the hospital any time soon! In this instance, artificial plants are certainly preferable.
- You can place an artificial plant in the darkest room in your home and it will still look great. There’s no need to worry about sunlight and moist air with artificial plants and flowers, so you’re free to decorate your home as you please!
If you’re interested in learning more about the history of plants, how they are made, and how to style them, why not check out the blog section of our website? If you’re ready to venture into the world of permanent botanicals, you can view our full range of artificial plants here.