5 Plants that Put a Different Spin on Rotational Color

We all love blooming plant rotations. Clients love them because they bring a much-needed injection of color into increasingly muted office and building décor schemes. Interiorscapers love them because they are a welcome source of that Holy Grail of Interiorscaping: recurring income. And the public loves them because who doesn’t love walking into a building lobby or office reception area and seeing exotic blooming plants on a cold winter’s day?

So why do we all get the feeling that there should be “something different” about our rotational color program?

The source of our discontent is likely the limited palette of blooming plants that are suitable for interiorscape use. The gallery of seasonal flowering material produced for the potted plant market comprises a number of admittedly colorful and attractive varieties: kalanchoes, chrysanthemum, tulips, daffodils, hyacinths…you know them well, because they welcome you into your local supermarket’s produce department. However, these staples of the florist trade have qualities that limit their use for interiorscapers. Post-harvest bloom life is primary among these, because a blooming plant that only lasts seven to ten days before it starts to self-destruct is not exactly what we or our clients have in mind. Flowering potted bulbs like tulips, hyacinths and daffodils are very seasonal and very short-lived in the interiorscape, giving less than two weeks of useful color in most cases. Chrysanthemums are not much better, shattering petals all over the planting area or turning a depressingly crunchy brown seemingly overnight. And even the relatively robust kalanchoe is going to start losing its edge in a couple of weeks (even if you install them in the tight bud stage, which means your flowers will often open a wishy-washy shade of whatever color you drooled over when you saw them in bloom at the supplier’s greenhouse). And the two exotic staples of color programs, bromeliads and orchids, can get stale and repetitive after a few cycles. What to do?

Anthurium andraeanum hybrid

Anthurium andraeanumIn our case, an unforeseen need to cut the budget at one of our accounts prompted a creative alternative, in this case substituting a permanent planting of anthurium for the bromeliads that had paraded through the lobby in prior years. We opted for a large-flowered red cultivar from a Canadian grower, because the teensy blooms of ‘Lady Jane’ and its cohorts just didn’t cut it from an impact standpoint. The lobby is a large space, and we only had four 18” chrome cylinder planters to use for the color program, so we needed to maximize the “wow” factor without the recurring cost to the client. That’s not to say you couldn’t use this spectacular variety (which also comes in shades of orange, pink, maroon and white) as a substitute for orchids and bromeliads in your current program. It’s certainly exotic-looking enough to give those two workhorses a run for their money from a style perspective, and it’s cost-effective as well. I kid you not when I tell you that these same sixteen original plants have had at least two or three flowers per plant in bloom every day for the past three years continuously. So if you’re worried about useful bloom life, you can stop.

Amaryllis & Calla Lily cultivars

AmaryllisIf you’re not taken with anthuriums, there are two other plants that could easily stand in for bromeliads and orchids. At our greenhouses in New Jersey, we force hundreds of Amaryllis (Hippeastrum cvv.) each year, mainly for holiday sales at Christmas, Chinese New Year, Easter and Mother’s Day. But these stately beauties are also a favorite of several of our New York City wholesale customers, who like to use them massed in planters and bowls in building lobbies in the Big Apple (and if they’re stylish enough to make it there, they can make it anywhere). The strong, erect inflorescences bearing four or more six-to-eight-inch diameter blooms per spike and two to three spikes per bulb make a real statement, and because they carry few or no leaves while in bloom, they require virtually no watering over the course of their three to four weeks of display. Not sexy enough for your tastes? Then try Calla Lily (Zantedeschia cvv.). It’s a relative of the familiar Spathiphyllum and other aroids that grows from a subterranean rhizome and produces lush, green foliage underscoring tall, colorful, exotic spathes of white, yellow, pink, purple, orange, red and all shades in between. Bloom life varies, but generally we get about three to four weeks out of them if the heat isn’t cranking too much.

Calandiva hybrid

CalandivaIf your tastes run more to traditional short-term rotation subjects like mums and kalanchoes, you might want to consider close relatives of these plants that require similar care but have more interesting blooms and are frequently longer-lived. Calandiva is a double-flowered kalanchoe hybrid that carries huge bosses of rosebud-shaped flowers that literally cover the plant when in bloom and last up to six weeks, about fifty percent longer than the average single-flowered kalanchoe. Because they are succulents, their watering and grooming requirements are very modest, making extra maintenance visits unnecessary. Any supplier that carries kalanchoes will be able to get you calandiva in myriad colors (red, orange, yellow, pink, fuchsia, white).

Exhibition (“Football”) mums

Football Mum MixChrysanthemums can be a cheery addition to a blooming plant program, but they aren’t the friendliest creatures to the interiorscaper. They typically last in good bloom for only about two weeks, they shed petals copiously toward the end of that lifespan, they are high-demand plants with respect to watering, and they make a real mess when being rotated out of a display. If you must use them, think about the possibility of substituting them with “football mums”. These are exhibition chrysanthemums that are produced by disbudding most of the flower buds from the plant to produce fewer, but enormous blooms that last longer and make a much more impressive display. They are reminiscent of the types of mums that are traditionally produced by collectors in Japan and China and exhibited with great fanfare at flower shows there, and can impart a novel style to your color program displays.

Forced Azaleas

AzaleaFinally, you should consider availing yourself of a very attractive alternative for three-to-four-week rotations, the so-called “indoor Azalea”. These varieties, available in colors ranging from various shades of pink to salmon, red, purple, white and variegated shades of pink-and-white on the same bloom, are not really indoor plants per se, but rather cultivars of landscape azaleas that are produced typically on the West Coast of the United States by forcing the plants to bloom at any season of the year, including midsummer and mid-winter. These cultivars are not generally hardy in areas north of Zone 7, and so are typically discarded in those parts of the country colder than that after blooming. But they generally have larger blooms than many of the hardier cultivars familiar to landscapers and gardeners in the north, and the heavy substance of their blooms makes them long-keepers in the interiorscape (naturally, the cooler the environment, the longer they will hold their blooms). They are also produced in “special forms”, such as topiary trees and wreaths, that will make a statement for that special location, such as an executive suite or reception desk. Nothing can match the impact of a display featuring these sumptuous azaleas for a shot of springtime to counteract the winter doldrums.

There you have it. There’s no excuse for falling into a rut with your color program choices. There are other possibilities too numerous to list here, including multicolored croton as a foliage alternative to flowering color which is also very much in demand by our wholesale customers for interior displays in late summer and autumn. So stretch your design palette and create a fresh impression for your clients by putting a different “spin” on rotational color.


Anthurium andraeanum photo by Mauricio Mercadante via https://www.flickr.com/photos/mercadanteweb/6396319481/

Amaryllis photo by Yannia via https://www.flickr.com/photos/ellie-yannis/14223630280/

Calandiva photo by Wesley Nitsckie via https://www.flickr.com/photos/nitsckie/4995609307/

Football Mum Mix photo by Michigan Bulb Co

Azalea photo by Toshiyuki IMAI via https://www.flickr.com/photos/matsuyuki/8680850034/

Clem Cirelli, Jr. is a career horticulturist and interiorscaper at Belmont Greenhouses in Belle Mead, New Jersey, with over thirty-five years' experience in all segments of the green industry. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Biology from Rutgers University, has written for Interiorscape Magazine, has spoken at TPIE and the Mid-Atlantic Interior Landscape Conference, and contributes regularly to the industry forums, Interiorscape.com and GreenChat.

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