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flowers a-z: b is for brassica

by SarahB

Hello, lovely readers! This post for the letter “B” was such an easy call — the indomitable brassica. I am a huge fan of this gorgeous cabbage. Brassica gives you lots of bang for your buck, is strong and stabilizing in arrangements, looks sophisticated and unusual and kicks up the drama factor.

Brassica is a broad term for a genus of plants in the mustard family (Brassicaceae). The members of this genus are collectively known either as cabbages or mustards. Crops from this genus are sometimes called cole crops, a phrase derived from the Latin caulis, meaning stem or cabbage. The Brassica group includes many familiar vegetables and “flowers” such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, rutabaga and turnip — some grown specifically for their ornamental leaves. They begin to appear in earnest at the flower market in fall, coming into high season in winter. To request brassica by name at a flower shop, you may have to ask for “kale” or “cabbage” — some vendors think it’s too highfalutin’ to use the genus name! After the jump, I’ll show you some ways to display and arrange brassica at home. Let’s get started! — Sarah

CLICK HERE for arrangement ideas and how-tos after the jump!

Brassica come in three basic hues — greens, creamy whites and violets. The stems and leaves are tough and waxy and they remain fresh as cut “flowers” for a solid week, making them a wonderful option for floral arranging! Here are some techniques for working with brassica and how to use it with other fabulous blooms:

Opening the Brassica

1. Begin by peeling the outer layers of leaves back, one at a time. Work with the leaves carefully, but you can tug firmly to splay them out. If you find that some of the lower-level leaves are yellowing, broken or rotting, simply pull them off and move to the next row. There will be plenty of bulk to work with higher up.

2. Twist the stem with one hand and peel the leaves back with the other, one by one as they spiral up the bloom.

3. The open rose-like shape will form almost immediately!

4. Once you’ve opened the bloom, place it back in the bucket and move on to the next step.

Designing with Brassica

As always, cut stems at an angle with a sharp implement. Select a container with a nice wide mouth for these big-headed “face” flowers, as they will create a lot of volume after they are opened. Place stems in your container at an angle and create a “grid” (see above) with the stems. This grid will get stronger and more structured as you go, making each successive bloom easier to place!

Here is a perfectly wonderful arrangement using only brassica. This would be a gorgeous centerpiece or gift all on its own. However . . .

I can’t help myself. So here I added some Gypsy Curiosa roses. I like pairing the rose-like shape of the brassica with an actual rose. I clustered the roses in little groups to provide saturated pops of color and texture. Adding flowers to a bucket of chunky brassica is a great project even for the very novice designer, as the brassica provide incredible “scaffolding” for your work. When you place flowers alongside the brassica, they stand straight up precisely where you want them. And . . .

I can’t help myself, as you know, so here I added some “tubular” flowers to the mix to show you the contrast. I also added millet and astilbe for visual interest and height. This is really starting to look autumnal. And . . .

Just a bit more! I “gilded the lily” with the addition of dark smoke bush (a hybrid of tubular and a face flower) and some spectacular magenta dahlia. This demands to be placed in the center of a holiday table, and then politely moved aside so guests can actually converse :)

See you in two weeks when “C” will be for . . .

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  • Beautiful! Did you get everything at your florist’s, or did you find some of your additions in your own yard? I love the blend of colors, and you’ve got some fantastic depth going in that arrangement!

    • hi steph!

      sarah is a florist so she picks up her flowers from a wholesaler, but you can also find brassica at grocery stores (i’ve seen it at whole foods shops across the country) and corner stores that carry flowers. they’re great because they’re not super pricey :)


  • I’m a fan of cabbage, for outdoor planters and indoor arrangements. I’ve got some on a pedestal table in my living room right now. Thanks for the info on properly cleaning them and opening them!

  • so pretty!! oh how i wish i could have such fabulous flowers in my apartment all the time! i truly believe just being in the vicinity of these arrangements could turn me into the domestic goddess i’ve always wanted to be… le sigh.

  • Quesiton: are these a flower you can put in food-dyed water & have the “petals” turn color? Just thinking of other fun flowers to make over-the-top Halloween-y!!

    • candace

      i did a search and couldn’t find anything on this, but sarah can weigh in with her expert advice. i’m limited to my googling skills for this one ;)


  • If we were to go to a nursery to grow these ourselves, what would they be called there? I have only seen cabbage in the vegetable section, and they didn’t have these beautiful flowers on them.

  • Hi Melanie,

    Although I mostly work with cut flowers and wholesalers and do not spend much time with growers, I believe that they would truly be called Brassica. Here are the order, family and genus names, which might also be helpful.

    Order: Brassicales
    Family: Brassicaceae
    Genus: Brassica

    It may also be that they are not yet available where you are located. They are just starting to appear around shops and vendors here on the East Coast.

    Thanks so much for reading!

  • Hi Candace!

    Unfortunately, the brassica are not amenable to dyes :( Flowers like carnations and chrysanthemums are the primary flowers you see (and mums are in full season now) that can be dyed. In summer, you might also find orange dyed sunflowers around.

    An alternative (although not terribly eco-friendly) to water dyeing flowers is actually “spray painting” them. You can go a local craft store or floral supply place and buy actual colored flower spray. You spray directly on the blooms (try white carnations, white hydrangea or white mums).

    Great comments, all!

  • I love these!!! I used Kale for my centerpiece at my wedding. I loved the purple in them and it was a reference to my husband’s love of cooking. :)

  • Pretty! I’d seen them used in landscaping, but not in cut flower arrangements before.

    Did you all know that Daikon Radishes are actually members of the brassica family? I just found that out this week! Right up there with cauliflower and broccoli for cruciferous vegetables…ward of breast cancer AND eat something exotic, how great!

  • Oh my what a coincidence! I just bought three of these today for the first time. I put two in the sitting area and one in the bed room. Frankly, I wasn’t liking them (the big heads and the robust stems looked a little scary) till I came across this post. Now I know what I did wrong: I didn’t open up the petals, so they look kinda like a hammer-head, i put them in transparent glass jars, so the stems show, and I didn’t mellow them down in arrangements! Thanks so much for this series!

  • Beautiful! The finished arrangement is spectacular, but I really love the ‘brassica only’ bouquet the best. Must be the kitchen gardener in me. ;) The ‘flowers’ are just so pretty, and the colors are really wonderful.

  • Beautiful! I’m a big fan of sturdier flowers that look more like vegetables/plants. Especially been into green flowers (natural-not dyed!) lately

  • so luvly!
    i’ve been stuck in the planning stages of my garden for months & i think that maybe i’ll plant some of these, if it’s even possible. haha I’ve been struggling with not knowing the best way to garden now that i’m no longer in CT, now im in SoCal!

  • whew…. perfect arrangement, i do love flowers a lot and cabbage too… everytime that flowers are posted here i can’t help myself to comment and express my excitement. i really enjoying it a lot. hoping for more posting bout flowers..

  • I just bought a bunch of these at Costco yesterday, now I know what to do with them. Thanks much!

  • i’ve always wanted to use decorative cabbages for flower arrangements but fear that others might find it silly. i love unconventional flowers. thanks for this!

  • This is my first time I have had a bouquet of brassica and I love them but they smell very different, most like a vegetable cooking? I do to know much about the flower but I like them and will certainly add them to my shopping list along with my Lillie’s. the brassica look fab in my lounge, they do bring a lot of attention to the home. They have a beautiful image and look royal. Lisa.xxx

  • I was wondering, are they edible,and also would they be dangerous to cats like poinsettia

  • really wonderful to know about the beautiful flower . throw some light on its fragnance also.

  • Thank you! One of my favourite flowers during the winter months and never thought of opening them up for a fuller look ?