The British Alstroemeria Fact File
LATIN NAME: Alstroemeria
COMMON NAME: Peruvian lily, Inca lily, Parrot lily or alstro (in Market-speak)
AVAILABILITY: March to November
COLOUR RANGE: white, cream, yellow, pink, red, apricot, orange, purple, often flecked, striped or freckled
BEST BUYING DAYS AT New Covent Garden Flower Market: Monday & Thursday
The Origins of Alstroemeria
Alstroemeria is a member of the Alstroemeriaceae family, and very definitely not a true lily, despite its common names of Peruvian, Inca or Parrot lily. Alstroemeria is native to South America and probably derived the lily association from the lily-like look of the flowers that crown the top of its long, sturdy stems.
And here are a couple of interesting alstroemeria history facts for you:
The alstroemeria was named by the famous botanist, Carl Linnaeus, after one of his pupils, Baron Clas Alströmer, who sent him the seeds in 1753.
John Goemans, an Englishman of Dutch heritage, is known as ‘the father of alstroemeria’, as he was the first to start breeding new varieties back in 1948. His sons, Frank and Bob, still run Parigo Horticulture in Sussex today, the company John Goemans founded, growing and breeding alstroemeria.
Alstroemeria as a Cut Flower
Alstroemeria - or alstro as it is known at the Flower Market - is an incredibly long-lasting cut flower with a vase life of two weeks or even more. It has no scent and just simply sword-like green foliage - all the glamour is in the flowerheads. Alstro are widely grown in the UK and come in a veritable rainbow of colours, as the song goes (or does not go): red and yellow and pink and green, purple and orange… but not blue.
The individual petals can be plain, but more often they are splashed with yellow or freckled with delicate dots or flecks of brown or black.
Rob van Helden used single varieties of British-grown alstro massed in domes and umbrella forms in his designs for British Flowers Week. This has the beautiful effect of paring down the busy-ness of the alstroemeria flower and allowing you to appreciate its unique beauty.
Buying British Alstroemeria
British-grown alstro are sold through wholesale markets in the traditional, dry-packed, and often mixed, flower boxes. You are looking for green foliage and sturdy stems as an indicator of freshness.
Alstro have a vase life of a good two weeks, and are very easy to look after. They are, however, particularly sensitive to ethylene, and need to be kept well away from bananas and the rest of your fruit bowl too. Otherwise, the basic cut flower care tips apply:
- ensure that your vase is scrupulously clean so that there are no bacteria lurking around
- remove any leaves that would be below the water line to stop any rot
- trim the flower stems to the preferred length
- arrange the stems in your clean vase filled with fresh water mixed with the flower food provided
- keep your flowers out of direct sunlight, away from radiators, drafts and even from your fruit bowl (ethylene shortens vase life)
- trim the stems and top up the vase every day
Where to buy
The peak season for British alstroemeria is from March to November, and the main deliveries come fresh into the Flower Market from the growers for Monday and Thursday morning trading.
If you have any top tips on designing with British Alstroemeria, we would love to hear from you. Simply write your comments in the box below.