Green. We love it as the colour that symbolises life, and also the feelings of freshness, vitality and renewal that it inspires. In gardens, we love it in foliage and healthy stems but strangely have an aversion to it in flowers. Floral artists who are, I think, much more inventive when it comes to combining foliage and flowers than most garden designers, (OK Christo Lloyd excluded) started using green flowers in their arrangements and bouquets several years ago.
When you think about it, green is often even viewed as a ‘non-colour’ in garden design, with those who love life to be colourful referring to putting in plants with red, pink orange, purple or blue flowers as ‘adding a bit of colour‘ to their gardens, as if there were none there to begin with. Poor old green – always the bridesmaid and never the bride.
Garden designers, nurseries and gardeners are not keen on including green-flowering plants in their stocklists and gardens. While researching this story I came across many phrases about green flowers, like:
“only a garden novelty”
the damning with faint praise
“one for the collector”
the more damning
“dreary and charmless”.
or the really damning
“It simply looked ill”.
However when I saw one of the newest plant releases to debut at the Chelsea Flower Show, a vivid green double clematis called Green Passion, I was entranced and soon smitten. Sure, I’m a clematis fancier from way back but I think that its greenness accentuates the beauty of its form, so often overwhelmed in other colours. The flowers also look more connected to the foliage – they sort of erupt from it, rather than dancing over it like other colours of clematis.
As Nori and Sandra Pope commented:
“Green flowers come into their own in a monochrome scheme….A conventional flower shape in an unexpected colour is the hook that catches out attention.”
My excitement over the green clematis made me wonder why we have such a prejudice against green flowers, and what options are out there for those who would like to go green with their flowers.
Let’s go back to the florists and floral artists for some inspiration, and see how they incorporate green flowers into their arrangements, with stunning effect. When I look at this variety of combinations, I’m struck at how green flowers really do go with every other colour. Perhaps it’s that green is a mix of hot yellow and cool blue, as adding green flowers seems to make every colour sing. And, as they do that, I’ve noticed that they also leap into focus themselves.
Not only do the green flowers go with every other flower colour, adding green flowers makes a mix of disparate colours – which might usually clash – play very nicely with each other. It’s a colour happy to be a best friend to all others.
As with most flower colour combos, success lies in the proportion of one colour compared to the other, the saturation levels and whether other factors, like flower form, are held constant.
Christopher Lloyd observed that
“green flowers do not show up among green leaves”
so maybe the key from a planting design point of view is that the flowers need to be of a different shade of green when compared to the foliage.
Why are some flowers green?
When you start looking, you will find that a surprising number of genera have at least one green-flowering species plant. Often they have species names like ‘viridis’ or ‘viridiflora’, from the Latin word for green, such Anigozanthos viridis Western Australia’s green kangaroo paw, and Galtonia viridiflora, South Africa’s green summer hyacinth.
As flower colour is usually to attract a pollinator and, as a green flower is not going to stand out against its foliage, my guess is that most green flowers are pollinated through scent or perhaps by wind.
Several green flowers arose as chance seedlings discovered by those who chose to love them, such as Margery Fish, or were bred by well-known plantsmen like Piet Oudolf through various clever crosses.
Many green ‘flowers’ are actually showing off bracts and enlarged sepals, with the true flowers of various colours staying well-hidden inside, such as Bells of Ireland. Rosa ‘Viridflora’ and the slightly mutant-looking Dianthus barbatus ‘Green Trick’ don’t produce flowers at all, relying on bunches of sepals or fasciated leaves for their pretend flowers. Some green-flowering plants have flowers that began as another colour but turn green as they mature, or start green and age to pinkish colours such as the hydrangea cultivars.
Some of the plants that have flowers that turn green as they age, such as the peace, calla and arum lilies, have a white or colourful spathe that becomes green after a couple of weeks. Here, the spathe ‘flower’ is actually a modified leaf, so it turns green as it develops chlorophyll after the flower is pollinated and the spathe is no longer needed to attract them. Similarly, the flowers on hydrangeas are actually sepals, the protective structures often found the outside of a flower. Hydrangea flowers can start white, pink blue or purple, then turn green and finally back to a dusty version of their original colour, as chlorophyll is stored in the sepals and used by the plant to maximise food production through the summer and then withdrawn again as the days shorten into autumn.
Plants that don’t usually have green flowers can develop them if infected with some diseases, such the phytoplasma that causes aster yellows, commonly found during cool, wet summers, in plants like coneflower, zinnia, aster, marigold and snapdragon. In these cases, it’s time to get rid of the plants before leafhoppers or mites spread it elsewhere in your garden.
There are some really wonderful green flowers that have been bred in the last few years. One of my favourites is Angus Stewart’s kangaroo paw Anigozanthos Landscape Lime. Definitely anything but dull, especially when you make it zing against a background of deep red!
MY LIST OF PLANTS WITH GREEN FLOWERS OR FLOWER-LIKE STRUCTURES
On many of these plants, the ‘flowers’ are actually sepals/bracts/tepals rather than true flowers, but they function visually as flowers from a garden design point of view.
NOTE: This list is an international list of a very wide range of plants. As it is an international list, I have not excluded any plant based on its weediness in any locality. All gardeners who are considering growing a new plant, whether green-flowered or not, should first check whether it may be an environmental weed in their local area.
GREEN FLOWERING TREES
Decaisnea fargesii – blue sausage tree has hanging racemes of pretty green star-bell flowers before it develops its bizarre fruit
Maclura tricuspidata syn Cudrainea tricuspidata – Chinese mulberry has pretty bright green flowers that develop into small and sweet, orange fruit
Prunus serrulata – green cherry blossom, or ‘gyoikozakura’ was bred in Japan during the Edo period. It has fluffy double pale green flowers with dark pink centres.
Quercus robur – the male flowers of the English oak are small, green catkins in long, hanging tassels
Ulmus glabra, Ulmus glabra ‘Lutescens’ and Ulmus minor – wych elm, golden elm and filed elm have clusters of fluffy green flowers – a very pretty sight on bare branches in spring
GREEN FLOWERING SHRUBS
Abutilon sandwicense – green flowered mallow native to Hawai’i. Grows 1-2m tall and has apple-green bell flowers.
Artabotrys hexapetalus – a shrub that becomes a scrambling climber with highly fragrant greenish flowers turn yellow with age
Boronia clavata – fine-leafed shrub to 1m with small, scented greenish-yellow bell flowers. Unlike most boronias, this one will adapt to most soils and is now used as a grafting understock for harder-to-grow species.
Callistemon pinifolius syn. Melaleuca linearis – pine-leafed bottlebrush is a small shrub from coastal New South Wales growing to 1m. There are both green and red flowering forms.
Callistemon viridiflorus syn. Melaleuca virens – mountain or lime bottlebrush from Tasmania growing to 2m with chartreuse green flowers.
Correa baeuerlennii – chef’s hat correa. Grows around 1m high, with glossy dark-green leaves and tubular acid-green flowers hanging from a flat, darker green calyx, giving the appearance of a chef’s hat.
Correa lawrenceana – native to Australia’s east coast, variable from shrub to small tree. Flowers can be a range of colours but several varieties have yellowish-green tubular flowers
Deherainia smaragdina – a small tropical shrub with green flowers. This one fits well into to the ‘scent pollinator’ category, having a very pervasive smell that attracts flies. Also known as ‘dog mess’ or ‘smelly foot’ plant!
Eremophila glabra subsp. verrucosa – emu bush from Western Australia with acid-green tubular flowers
Erica urna-viridis – this small heath plant from the South Africa’s Cape grows to 1m and has small, urn-shaped pale-green sticky flowers
Grevillea formosa – spreading medium-sized shrub with feathery foliage. Although the flowers are actually yellow, the very large green buds with curled-over styles give the impression of green flowers.
Grevillea mucronulata – green spider flower from New South Wales, shrub to around 1.5m with greenish flowers with red marking
Grevillea rosmarinifolia ‘Cream and Green’ – a popular grevillea cultivar grown in New Zealand with needle-like foliage and clusters of creamy to pale-green flowers
Grevillea jephcottii – green grevillea from north-eastern Victoria, 1.5m high with cream-green flowers with a purple style
Hydrangea arborescens ‘Bounty’ syn. ‘Annabelle’– large mopheads of green flowers age to a white
Hydrangea paniculata ‘Jane’ aka Limelight – 2.5m high deciduous shrub with large, football sized heads of pale-green flowers that age to pink through burgundy
Hydrangea ‘Little Lime’ – grows to 1m x 1m, lime-green flowers age to pink
Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Hortmagreclo’ marketed as Everlasting® Green Cloud – 1m shrub with large heads of light-green flowers that age to bright red
Leschenaultia chlorantha – small Australian native shrub found on the rocky Western Australian coast near Geraldton.
Manihot esculenta – tapioca/cassava/manioc is a tropical shrub to small tree with very attractive and large umbrella-like leaves and small, greenish bell-shaped flowers which age to a greenish-red.
Melaleuca diosmifolia – green honey myrtle. 2-3m shrub native to south-west Western Australia with rich green bottlebrush flowers.
Styphelia adscendens – semi-prostrate shrub from the south coast of New South Wales with tubular yellow-green flowers
Styphelia laeta – small 1m shrub from coastal New South Wales with tubular yellow-green flowers.
Ribes laurifolium ‘Mrs Amy Doncaster’ – flowering currant, with long, sprawling canes and racemes of pale green flowers in late winter
Rosa ‘Viridiflora’ – the ‘green rose’, bred in the 1800s, will never have a perfume as it doesn’t actually produce any flower. The flower-looking structure is a fluffy bunch of row-on-row sepals.
Alchemilla mollis – an old-fashioned favourite, lady’s mantle forms a clump of large, soft leaves and is covered in small lime-green star-shaped flowers
Alchemilla vulgaris – lady’s mantle related to the more commonly grown Alchemilla mollis. A herbaceous perennial with basal rosettes of leaves and heads of charteuse- green flowers spring-summer.
Alstroemeria Green Day – princess lily with light yellow-green flowers sporting thin brown stripes
Anigozanthos viridus – green kangaroo paw from the southern coast of Western Australia with rich green flowers on reddish stems
Anigozanthos viridus ‘Green Dragon’ – emerald green kangaroo paw flowers
Anigozanthos flavidus Landscape Lime – tall kangaroo paw bred by Angus Stewart with light lime-green flowers
Aquilegia vulgaris var. stellata ‘Green Apples’ – a pale green double columbine
Asclepias viridis – green milkweed is loved by monarch butterflies. Grows to 1m, with heads of green flowers that have a pale purple centre
Astrantia major ‘Green Tapestry’ – green palmate leaves and greenish-white flowers
Astrantia major subsp. involucrata ‘Shaggy’ – allegedly discovered by iconic gardener Margery Fish. Clump pf palmate leaves, umbels of tiny flowers surrounded by white and green bracts, each with a distinctive pinched ‘waist’.
Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus – the enlarged green flower bud of the globe artichoke is as attractive as any flower – and then you eat it!
Chrysanthemum ‘Green Envy’, Feeling Green, Apple Crisp, Anastasia Green, Green Satin, Nightingale – florists delight in these vivid green flowers
Dianthus barbatus ‘Green Trick’- actually a fasciation of fluffy leaves that looks like a flower
Dianthus ‘Prado’ – pale yellow-green double carnation
Echinacea purpurea ‘Green Jewel’ – green coneflower bred by Piet Oudolf. Scented flowers with light green petals surrounding a dark green cone
Eryngium agavifolium – a handsome rosette of spiky, toothed leaves with flower heads of small cone-shaped greenish flowers
Eryngium horridum – tufts of leaves like a pineapple plant with a 1m tall, branched inflorescence of small green cone-shaped flowers.
Eryngium giganteum aka Eryngium ‘Miss Wilmott’s Ghost’ – grows to 1.2m, with pale grey-green foliage and bracts
Eryngium maritimum – wild sea holly, once common on Britain’s coastal clifftops. Grey-green leaves and flowers
Eryngium proteiflorum – grows to 60cm. Large green bract ‘flowers’ with blue-green central cone
Eucomis bicolor – two-coloured pineapple lily has a 50cm tall spike of green-purplish flowers that emerge from the large basal rosette. The spike is capped with green leafy bracts.
Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae – Mrs Robbs bonnet, or wood spurge rgows to about 50cm and has lime-green bracts
Euphorbia x martini – a hybrid euphorbia with large heads of lime-green bracts carrying a small red flower
Euphorbia palustris – marsh spurge grows to about 1m, with clusters of yellow-green bracts and flowers
Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii – grows to about 1m, with long-lasting acid-green bracts from winter to spring
Fritillaria acmopetala subsp. wendelboi – fritillary with a green bell flower showing a purplish blotch
Helleborus argutifolius syn Helleborus corsicus – holly-leafed hellebore grows to around 75cm and has large dark green leaves and pendulous pale green flowers
Helleborus foetidus – dark green foliage with pendant flowers surrounded by lime-green drooping bracts
Helleborus viridus – this has the greenest flower of the hellebores with creamy-white centres.
Hemerocallis ‘Green Iceberg’ – daylily with greenish yellow single flower with green throat
Hemerocallis ‘Green Inferno’ – daylily with spider flowers in yellow-green with a rich green throat
Hemerocallis ‘It’s That Green’ – mint-green single daylily with ruffled petals
Kniphifoia uvaria ‘Green Jade’ – lime green pokers with a 1.5m tall flower spike of tubular lime-green flowers
Mathiasella bupleuroides ‘Green Dream’ – heads of pretty, apple-green flowers that look a bit like hellebore.
Paeonia ‘Green Halo’, ‘Green Lotus’ and ‘Dou Lu’ (Pea Green), ‘Lu Liu’ (Green Willow) and ‘Lu Mu Ying Yu’ (Jade Hidden in Wavy Curtain)
Paris polyphylla – a spreading perennial from Asia to 90cm high. The stunning flower is actually a star-shaped whorl of rich green sepals topped with greenish whiskery petals.
Primula ‘Francisca’ – polyanthus type primrose (a rosette of basal leaves) with ruffled light-green flowers with a yellow centre
Salvia discolor – although technically a black/dark blue flower, the main and most persistent feature of this salvia are the clusters of rich green bracts.
Scabiosa ‘Magic’ – clumping perennial to 50cm with light green flowers that age to rosy pink
Smyrnium perfoliatum – light green stem-sheathing leaves and tiny green-gold flowers. Looks similar to many of the euphorbias
Veratrum viride – herbaceous perennial with large, ribbed leaves and a tall flower stalk carrying racemes of small flowers surrounded by light-green tepals
Zantedeschia ‘Green Goddess’ – tall arum lily with green and white flowers
GREEN FLOWERING ORCHIDS
Several orchid genera produce green-flowering species.
Bonatea speciosa – green wood orchid produces a 60cm tall spike of green and white spider-style flowers
Coeloglossum viride – frog orchid has long basal leaves and a raceme of small greenish flowers that age to reddish-brown
Coelogyne pandurata – tropical epiphytic orchid with long sprays of fragrant green flowers with black lips
Cymbidium goeringii – a very cold-hardy rhizomatous orchid from Japan with a single bright green flower in autumn
Cynoches chlorochilon – banana-smelling epiphytic orchid from South America with green flowers in summer
Paphiopedilum malipoense – jade slipper orchid from China that has striking green flower with maroon markings that smells like raspberries
Paphiopedilum tonsum – the ‘bald’ slipper orchid (the flower is hairless) from SE Asia with a yellow-green flower that has purple spots.
Phalaenopsis ‘Green Star’ – pale green moth orchid
Pterostylis nutans – nodding greenhood orchids are native to eastern Australia, grow to 20cm tall and have semi-translucent greenish flowers
Sudamerlycaste locusta syn Ida locusta – a lithophytic orchid from Peru with rich green apple-scented flowers
GREEN FLOWERING GRASSES and SEDGES
Setaria viridis – bristle grass is a fast-growing but short-lived grass with a tall 2m spikelet of green flowers
GREEN FLOWERING CLIMBERS AND VINES
Aphanopetalum resinosum – native to eastern Australia, gum vine is a twining climber with beautiful glossy leaves and sprays of small star-shaped pale-green flowers
Billardiera scandens – a wiry climber native to the Australian east coast growing to 3m with bell-shaped cream-green flowers that age to light purple
Clematis ‘Green Passion’ – an early-flowering clematis with large, double apple-green flowers.
Codonopsis viridis – a small twining plant from the mountainous regions of china and India with a pale purple-green bellfower
GREEN FLOWERING BULBS, CORMS and TUBERS
Amaryllis ‘Green Magic’ aka Magic Green – very large, pale green flowers with a darker green centre and maroon edged petals
Arisaema consanguineum – cobra lily has a single palm-like leaf to 1m tall. Underneath a hooded green flower emerges from the leaf stem. Some flowers show brown stripes.
Arisaema jacquemontii – this lily has a green spathe with a rising ‘whip’ to 60cm tall and green spadix
Freesia viridis syn Anomatheca viridis – – spike of pale green star-shaped flowers
Gladiolus ‘Emerald Spring’ – tall glad with a lovely lime-green flower
Gladiolus ‘Green Star’ (Biltmore estates) – 1.2m glad with acid-green flowers
Iris ‘Pride of Ireland’ and ‘Wee Granny Smith’, ‘Limesicle’
Ranunculus asiaticus ‘Reinette Green’, ‘Success Green’ and ‘Mistral Lime Green’ – just like the Ranunculus you’ve always loved in spring, only bright green!
Ranunculus ficaria ‘Green Petal’ – clump-forming tuberous perennial with yellow and green splashed double flowers
Ranunculus Pon Pon Silente and Pon Pon Stella – two of the Italian Cloni series Ranunculus (sometimes wrongly spelled as ‘Clooney’)
Rudbeckia occidentalis ‘Green Wizard’ – now this is no ordinary green flower! Small rich-green sepals are dominated by a large, black daisy flower cone
GREEN FLOWERING ANNUALS and BIENNIALS
Amaranthus caudatus ‘Viridis’ – a green form of love-lies-bleeding that grows to 1m, with long tassels of lime-green flowers.
Angelica archangelica subsp. litoralis – sea garden angelica, with large heads of many small, light green flowers in its second summer
Moluccella laevis – bells or Ireland has 1m tall spikes of bright green bell-shaped flower bracts surrounding tiny white flowers
Nicotiana alata ‘Lime Green’ – flowering tobacco, a clumping plant to 60cm with acid-green tubular flowers through summer-autumn
Nicotiana langsdorffii – clumping plant with large leaves and sprays of delicate light-green tubular flowers through summer
Zinnia ‘Envy’, Tequila Lime, Jade, Giant Lime
Other ‘green flower’ lookalikes
Pterocarpa fraxinifolia has long green catkins
Ophioglossum vulgatum – hart’s tongue fern looks like a green spathe
Sarracenia flava – pitcher plant with a lime-green rolled leaf forming its ‘pitcher’
New growth on some conifers that is acid green against the dark mature foliage can look rather flower-like, or green immature cones eg Keteleeria fortunei
Succulents like Aeonium that have a flower-like rosette form
Further reading on green flowers:
Green Flowers: unexpected beauty for the garden, container or vase, by Alison Hoblyn