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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, December 18, 2001

Acceptance of 'permanent botanicals' growing

By Dorothea Smith
(Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News

Don't call these trees, potted plants and cut flowers artificial — even though they are. Just call them "permanent botanicals." After all, they are botanically correct. These fakes, which include vines, branches, berries and fruits, have become acceptable as substitutes for the real thing, and they're even beginning to look as real as the real thing. Sometimes you have to pinch their leaves or tug at their petals (when no one is looking) to make certain they are made of silk.

Actually, most permanent botanicals are made from a form of polyester, not silk.

"The flowers over the years have become more and more realistic," says Louise Tanis, vice president of retail sales for Petals Inc., a 72-year-old company with national headquarters in Tarrytown, N.Y. "We don't offer anything that

doesn't correspond exactly to the way plants occur in nature. As a

result, we can attract a broader market."

Maybe that's why Petals Inc. has seen its sales triple in the past 10 years.

Petals' boom reflects a trend nationwide. Even as purveyors of real evergreens predict a spike in sales this holiday, so do the producers and importers of permanent botanicals (or permanent florals).

Acceptance of fake flowers is growing, especially during Christmas. In 1999, the faux-flora industry recorded $6.2 billion in wholesale revenue, 60 percent of that in the Christmas "trim-a-home" market, says Ron Poling, executive director of the American Flower Importers Association. That's a big jump over the $3.8 billion in 1992. (The hottest fakes were wreaths and garlands, but the total includes trees, lights, ornaments, pots, ribbons, angels and Santas.)

"One reason there is a greater acceptance is that the whole technology of product development has improved," says Dave Elliott, Petals' vice president for product development.

Flowers and other products designed and sold at Petals are still made by hand, but are produced in China, Elliott says. Buyers travel to Holland for fresh flowers and make latex molds of the plants to get them exactly right. Developments in plastic film technology, polyesters, PVC and other materials allow the plants to simulate nature in form and hue.

These days, nearly all U.S. fake-flower factories are out of business, victims of high domestic labor costs and tough environmental laws, industry insiders say. Most holiday flora comes from Thailand and China, with Mexico starting to get into the act.