We’ve always had an appreciation for nature. From Claude Monet’s famous Water Lilies to the miniature terrariums in your local coffee shop, plants and flowers are everywhere you look. Many of us even have an urge to bring the outdoors into our homes, buying the most eye-catching plants and stylish pots to match. But real plants aren’t always the best option, especially for those of us who lack the talent for keeping them alive! Today, many of us opt for what florists call “permanent botanicals” as a way of filling our homes and workspaces with fresh greenery, without the hassle.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the history of artificial plants, where they came from, and why they’re so popular today.
How and when we were introduced to artificial plants
It’s impossible to pin down exactly when artificial/faux plants came about, but we can trace them back as far as the Roman and Egyptian era. People used different materials since plastic was still over a thousand years away; animal horn was used to create stained plates and copper and silver to denote flora and fauna. Despite being made with limited resources at the time, artificial plants and flowers have always had an intricacy and ingenuity of production.
And as for where this trend began, China is the most likely part of the world as this is where the idea of procuring silk from silkworms was born. In the beginning, the silk-making process involved a lot more work than it does today. This is because originally, silkworm rearing was practiced so people could provide the softest silks, and silkworms are entirely completely dependent on people, from rearing to feeding. But how did humans discover that these small larvae could create such a soft material?
The legend of Leizu
When speaking about how humans discovered silk, one story tells of Leizu, the wife of the Yellow Emperor. In the year 2696BCE, Leizu was enjoying a cup of tea in her Imperial Gardens until a silk moth’s cocoon fell into her cup, beginning to unravel. Leizu noticed that the moth’s cocoon was made up of one long, soft thread, and the idea of creating fabric from these materials came about. For centuries after this, the Chinese worked to master the labour-intensive process of producing soft and luxurious silks. The material would be created by the moths, spun into cloth, then constructed into garments used to symbolise status.
Chinese silk and artificial flowers
1,500 years after the legendary accidental discovery of silk by Leizu, the Chinese began using these fabrics to create arrangements of artificial flowers, again enjoyed by those with status and power. Before long, the ladies of the Imperial Palace began including these flowers in their portraits and would pose with decorative silk flowers in their hair. The Chinese continued to use this craft to express creativity for several centuries before silk flower-making became the industry it is today.
The spread of artificial flowers outside of Asia
When China opened its trade routes to the rest of East Asia, the trend of using silk flowers began to spread throughout Asia and beyond. What we now know as the “silk road” was established in 130 B.C when the Han Dynasty officially opened trade to the West. This continued until the 12th century when Italian merchants began peddling their versions of artificial flowers by using silkworms and dyeing them. French merchants followed soon after, producing yet another version of these artificial flowers. By the 14th century, French artificial flowers were considered some of the most well-made and intricately designed. In fact, one story tells that, in 1775, one of Marie Antoinette’s subjects presented her with a single silk rosebud. She is said to have gazed upon its beauty and immediately fainted, claiming it was “too perfect.” That rosebud soon became her royal emblem.
The French Revolution that brought an end to Marie Antoinette's reign also brought hundreds of French flower makers to the United Kingdom. By the early 1800s, British immigrants had started taking the flower-making craft to the United States.
Artificial plants and flowers in the Victorian Era
The Victorian Era, which lasted from 1837 – 1901, was the era in which an explosion of floral art took place. The Victorians enjoyed an opulent and “busy” decoration style, which we would likely describe as maximalist now. During this time, every possible surface bore flowers or similar decorations. Flowers were so important that people began sending messages to their loved ones through floral bouquets. This was known as the “language of flowers.” Many of these plants and flowers were made with silk, but some were made with velvet, satin, gauze, muslin, cambric, and crepe.
Artificial plants & flowers in the 20th Century
In the 1920s, silk flowers were well and truly established. Florists started to use silk flowers in displays and arrangements to make up for seasonal shortages in their customer’s favourite flowers. Floristry has long been an artistry, so artificial wreaths and other decorations soon followed, including foliage and fruits.
During the 1920s and 1930s, a trend of using artificial fruit in the Italian style known as Della Robbia became popular. For a while in the 1940s, celluloid became a popular artificial flower material, but it was highly flammable, causing several deadly fires, and was soon banned from importation from Japan.
Plastic was soon discovered as an inexpensive option and overwhelmed the artificial plant and flower industry. Plastic peaked in popularity in the 1990s as it allowed plant makers to produce realistic silk blossoms, roses, and orchids. These plastics gave artificial plants and flowers a durability that was once unheard of since silk is such a delicate fabric. While those early plastic plants and flowers would not compare to the artificial plants and blooms of today, they were impressive for their time.
Modern day artificial plants and flowers
Today, artificial plants and flowers look nothing like the early versions in the mid-to-late 20th century. Gone are the frayed edges of silk petals and leaves, and the sharp plastic edge to stems where the molding left a lot to be desired. The high-quality artificial plants and stems that we stock have to be touched to be distinguishable from real plants, many with real wooden stems.
In 2021, artificial foliage can be seen almost anywhere you go. Faux plants have exploded in popularity thanks to their realism, low-maintenance nature, and beauty. They’re a mainstay in stores, restaurants, cafes, bars, hotels, and other businesses for the same reason. Plants and flowers are inherently welcoming, but the real thing often comes with the commitment to watering, repotting, pruning, and fertilising when necessary.
Silk plants and trees are used to liven up office spaces and bring a piece of the outside into boring, sterile environments. Silk flower arrangements are transforming rooms by adding colour and aesthetic appeal effortlessly.
Today's artificial flowers are so high-quality, and there’s more demand than ever for well-made, low-maintenance home decor. For this reason, the artificial plant and flower industry has exploded over the last few decades. This growing demand has meant that artificial plant manufacturers have been challenged to bring out products of an even higher quality.
What other materials are involved in the making of artificial plants and flowers?
Artificial flowers can be made from various materials, depending on the manufacturer’s budget and target customer. When it comes to quantity, polyester is often the fabric of choice for flower makers; it’s low-cost, durable, and can take on dyes and glues well. Plastic is often used for plant stems and any berries if the flower maker is creating a floral arrangement. Plastic is often used to make small clusters of faux flowers on plastic and wire stems that can be used to create quick and cheap floral decorations.
Other materials used in the making of artificial flowers can include cotton, paper, sateen, rubber, parchment, latex, and even feathers. For stems, many manufacturers use real wood to make a plant look hyperrealistic.
The Future of Artificial Plants and Flowers
So, what does the future look like? Likely, the higher quality and more realistic pieces will become even more affordable, and manufacturers will find new ways to make artificial plants even more durable while retaining their realistic look and feel. While artificial plants benefit from being long-lasting, we may see manufacturers find new ways to use recycled materials to make them more environmentally friendly, without losing their quality.
If you’ve been considering using artificial plants in your home or business, there’s never been a better time to do so. From trees to flowers, and houseplants to trim topiary hedges and green walls, there’s nothing artificial plants can’t do – and we offer it all here at Artificial Eden. Browse our range now.