Waxflower

24.05.17

Waxflower belong to the Chamelaucium genus of shrubs that are endemic to south western WA, which in turn belong to the myrtle plant family (Myrtaceae) and are related to tea trees (Leptospermum) and thryptomene. The common name waxflower encompasses Geraldton wax (Chamelaucium uncinatum) and other Chamelaucium species and Chamelaucium hybrids. There are also hybrids of different waxflower species, which are classified as Pearlflowers, Gemflowers or Starflowers.

Overview

Waxflower are woody evergreen shrubs that grow 0.5–3.0 metres tall. The leaves are tiny to medium sized, and contain oil glands that often give off a pleasant aroma when crushed. The distinguishing feature of waxflower is its large masses of small flowers. The petals have a waxy feel, which gives rise to the plant’s name. The flowers range in size from 9-26mm in diameter, and in colour from white to mauve or maroon.

Waxflower have been used as a cut flower since the 1940s, and through the 2010s, waxflower were Australia’s most significant commercial native cut flower and leading export cut flower—in terms of volume, they were in the top 20 flowers sold in Europe. Waxflower are one of the most widely used cut flowers because of their hardiness and longevity, the typical vase life is 18-20 days. The stems are very versatile in floral arrangements and newer cultivars are used as flowers in their own right.

Growers entering the cut flower industry are encouraged to do extensive research on the inherent risks and challenges throughout the value chain.

The wildflower industry, including waxflower producers, is considered a mature industry in Australia. It has an active research and development (R&D) program that assists industry members develop better production techniques, works towards industry-wide standards and identifies marketing opportunities. The wildflower industry is represented by WildFlowers Australia, which represents a diverse range of industry participants, including growers, buyers, wholesalers, exporters and importers, and research and extension specialists.

Facts and figures

  • In the 2010s, waxflower were the most significant commercial native cut flower and Australia’s leading export cut flower due to its hardiness and longevity
  • The most commonly used waxflower for cut flowers is Geraldton wax
  • Pearlflower is a newer waxflower hybrid gaining in popularity
  • The availability of efficient and economic refrigerated transport to market or export airports is an important consideration for commercial production
  • Waxflower are very susceptible to ethylene following harvest and should be managed accordingly

Production status

The Australian wildflower industry (including but not solely waxflower) is located mainly in Western Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and south east Queensland. Western Australia accounts for the largest proportion of the export wildflower market from Australia.

There are no industry statistics about growers or production information at an enterprise level for waxflower.

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Map of current and potential growing regions

Production Requirements

Growing regions

The natural habitat of waxflower is south western Western Australia, where they commonly grow in heathland communities on sand near the coast or inland. Waxflowers also grow on granite outcrops.

Commercial waxflower production occurs mostly in central to southern Western Australia and in coastal Queensland. Production has also occurred along the Murray River in South Australia and north west Victoria. The critical requirement for location suitability is a Mediterranean climate and sandy to sandy-loam soils.

Soil type

Sand or sandy loam soils are preferred for cultivation, as waxflower is intolerant of poorly drained soils, particularly heavy clays, and waterlogged conditions.

Most varieties do not tolerate alkaline soils, although a few selections are better adapted to soils with a pH(water) 7.5– 8.5. Growing waxflower on soils with a pH higher than this range is likely to result in nutrient deficiencies and greater management requirements to overcome such deficiencies, adding to the costs of production.

Climate

Waxflower grow well in Mediterranean-type conditions, such as the temperate climate zones that have cool wet winters and warm–hot dry summers. With careful management, waxflower have been grown in subtropical and tropical climates.

Waxflower are intolerant of frost (screen temperature less than 0°C) which is likely to render the crop unmarketable due to damage to the flower and growing tip. Severe frosts can kill the whole plant.

Warm humid conditions are undesirable because the plants and flowers can be severely affected by the grey mould Botrytis.

While a dry climate is ideal for disease management, irrigation water will be required for the summer months.

Varieties

Geraldton wax (Chamelaucium uncinatum) is the most widely cultivated species of waxflower and there are over 100 varieties available. The diversity in the range of varieties enables a flowering season from June to November, in traditional waxflower growing areas. The precise time of flowering depends on the variety grown and the season.

Other species of Chamelaucium sometimes used as cut flowers include:

  • C. megalopetalum (large waxflower) with flowers that are white, large, aging to pink, red or purple; flowering September to October
  • C. ciliatum (Stirling wax) with flowers that are white to pink; flowering September to November; and native to a wide range of soil types, including gravel and clay soils
  • C. floriferum (Walpole wax) with flowers that are pinkish-white with purple centre; flowering season August to November.

Some of the most sought after waxflowers are hybrids between C. uncinatum and C. megalopetalum. These white flowered hybrids are collectively known as Pearlflowers, to distinguish them from the generic waxflower, and most of them are protected by Plant Breeders Rights. Examples of white flowered hybrids with this parentage include Bridal PearlEsperance PearlDenmark Pearl, Crystal Pearl and Ivory Pearl.

There are other hybrids between C. uncinatum and C. megalopetalum that are known as Gemflowers. Examples of these higher quality coloured hybrids include Purple GemPastel Gem and Painted Lady.

There are inter-genus hybrids between C. uncinatum and Verticordia plumose that are called Starflowers. These varieties have small terminal massed flowers with pale to deep pink colours. They are generally more tolerant to ethylene than other cultivars and may need to be managed for this. Examples include JasperSouthern Stars and Eric John.

As there are many waxflower varieties available, growers should contact their local Department of Agriculture, exporters, nurseries or grower associations for advice on the best selections to grow for their circumstances. One consideration may be the sensitivity of the flowers to ethylene; hybrids that are not sensitive to ethylene tend to transport better. For further information on waxflower varieties for cut flower production refer to the publications What Cut Flower is that? The essential care and handling guide for cut flower professionals, Quality specifications for waxflower and Quality specifications for Pearlflower.

Planting and crop management

Waxflower prefer high light intensity and does not flower well in shaded conditions. Day length and temperature affect flower initiation and time to flowering, therefore plants should be positioned to receive maximum sunshine. Avoid planting on south-facing slopes, particularly at higher latitudes.

Waxflower are prone to root diseases, particularly Phytophthora cinnamonii and sites planned for waxflower should be tested for root diseases before planting to identify if any treatment is required.

Waxflower plantations are established from plantlets, which should be sourced from reputable nurseries to reduce the risk of introducing root diseases. Plantlets are prone to quickly becoming root bound in pots and should be planted out as soon as possible after purchase. The best time to plant is autumn, since it allows plants to establish over winter. If good irrigation facilities are available, a spring planting may be considered. Many different planting arrangements are used to establish plantations, including double rows and close planted hedges.

Waxflower responds well to balanced fertilisers, applied at moderate rates. The plants will also need regular irrigation to achieve maximum production. For further general information on waxflower planting and crop management refer to the publication 
New Crop Industries Handbook. For information on irrigation refer to the publication Wildflower Irrigation Handbook.

Weeds, pest and diseases

Competition with any weeds should be kept at a minimum, especially during establishment, and the use of weed matting may be beneficial.

Insects are not a major threat for waxflower in the field but if they are found in export shipments, the flowers may be rejected due to quarantine restrictions. Rutherglen bug, wingless grasshoppers and the ringbarking weevil can cause damage at planting. The gall wasp is a serious pest in Queensland but has little impact in Western Australia. A leaf tip larvae can damage shoot tips. For more information see Insect control in waxflower.

Significant root diseases of waxflower include the root rots Phytophthora cinnamoni and Pythium spp., and good plant hygiene practices along with ensuring sufficient drainage should be used to reduce the incidence of these diseases. Botrytis flower blight is the main aboveground disease that can cause significant losses both in the field and during shipment to export markets.

Myrtle rust, which has a wide host range across the Myrtaceae plant family, could potentially be an issue to the waxflower industry. There are restrictions on the movement of plants or plant material in the Myrtaceae family, including waxflower, from Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, to South Australia and the Northern Territory; and there are complete bans on movement of material to Tasmania and Western Australia. The quarantine legislation currently requires inspection of the place of production and a ‘Property Freedom’ accreditation provided, as well as frequent application of approved fungicides by growers and inspection of the consignment.

The industry body WildFlowers Australia has general advice and useful information available on pest and disease management. For further information on weeds, pests and diseases of waxflower, refer to the publication New Crop Industries Handbook and Insect control of waxflower.

Infrastructure Requirements

Irrigated agriculture and horticulture enterprises generally have compatible infrastructure to adapt to growing waxflower. Infrastructure and equipment for planting and crop management include machinery for site preparation, tractors for mowing and towing flower trailers, fertiliser spreaders, pesticide application equipment and irrigation infrastructure and equipment.

Harvesting and pruning equipment may include various hand picking tools, hedge trimmers, and/or machinery adapted or designed for mechanical pruning and harvesting.

For processing and preparing stems for market, the basic equipment and infrastructure required is a packing shed with a cool room and facilities to apply appropriate fungicide and insecticide treatments to the harvested stems.

A reliable source of high-quality water for irrigation will be required to achieve maximum production and to hydrate harvested product.

Harvesting & Processing

Waxflower are not harvested until the second year after establishment and they can be productive for 10 years. The plants are usually harvested every couple of days over a 5–7 month period (May to November). Harvesting of waxflower is very labour intensive, as stems are cut by hand, when the number of flowers open is between 30-70%, depending on variety, time of season and market requirements. Waxflower plants will need to be pruned after harvest to maintain good stem length and maximise yields for subsequent harvests, as well as to keep the bushes to a manageable size.

Stems are normally graded depending on the market to which they are being sent. Waxflowers are very susceptible to ethylene, which will cause bud drop, so exposure to exhausts, ripening fruit and vegetables should be minimised and flowers ‘pulsed’ or treated with anti-ethylene compounds during the post-harvest period. Flowers for export will require disinfestation and treatment for fungal diseases.

Bunches are usually packed into boxes with holes to enable force-cooled aeration. The bunches should not be packed too tightly, as this will damage the flowers.

Further information on harvesting and product quality are available from the RIRDC publications Postharvest Handling of Australian Flowers from Australian Native Plants and Related Species – A Practical ManualQuality specifications for waxflower and Quality specifications for Pearlflower .

Markets & Marketing

There is a wide range of market opportunities for wildflower growers (including but not solely waxflower). Markets can be local, regional, national or international. Each has its own range of management requirements.

At the local level, wildflowers can be sold to local florists, farm or roadside stalls, farmers’ markets, restaurants, motels and resorts. Ideally, the farm will be located within an hour’s drive of these customers, and deliveries can be made twice a week. Regular supply and excellent service will be critical to maintain the market.

Individually or in cooperative arrangements, growers may sell to florists that require a year-round supply of a variety of lines. Flowers need to be packed in flower boxes and delivered direct to florists over a large geographical area. Setting up an effective and economic transport network is critical, as is keeping in close contact with customers about orders and payments.

If the flowers are produced close to a capital city, there is the opportunity to sell at flower markets, such as the Sydney Flower Market at Flemington or the National Flower Centre at the Melbourne Markets. Growers may sell their product from a stall at the market, engage an agent to sell their product or sell to a wholesaler.

Growing for export requires careful planning, based on thorough market research and an export marketing plan. Some export advisers recommend that growers learn how to sell flowers on the domestic market successfully, before taking on the export market. Only top-quality product should be exported, therefore the farm production system will need an excellent quality control system.

Few growers are large enough to meet these requirements alone, which has given rise to the formation of grower co-operatives that allow several smaller producers to market their product together and thereby gain more power in the marketplace.

The most important export markets for Australian wildflowers, foliage and native plants are Japan (36%), the Netherlands (30%), the United States (16%), Germany (6%) and Canada (4%). Western Australia accounted for 34% of the total value of exports in this period, Queensland 28%, Victoria 24%, and New South Wales 13%.

Reliable industry statistics are not available so the true number of growers is unknown, particularly as many are part-time growers with other business or farming interests, who may grow one or several species of wildflowers, depending on their individual circumstances.  Most flower wholesalers include wildflowers as part of their range and several specialist flower exporters focus on wildflower products. There are thousands of florists and supermarkets who sell the flowers within Australia.

Excellent information and advice on understanding markets for Australian wildflowers is contained in the publication Getting Started in Wildflower Growing. The industry body, WildFlowers Australia, offers a range of contact information for businesses along the supply chain including nurseries, growers, wholesalers and exporters.

Risks & Regulations

Risks/challenges

The greatest risk associated with the production of any cut flower is not researching the enterprise sufficiently before investing and establishing the business. Extensive research should be carried out on what species (and varieties to grow) and into which market/s the flowers will be sold. Equally important to market research, is gaining a clear understanding of the personal attributes needed to be a successful flower grower and to operate a profitable flower-growing business; and a good understanding on capital investment and time to earn returns on investment. Chapters 1 and 2 of the publication Getting Started in Wildflower Growing provide excellent guidelines for working through these considerations.

Once the business is established, many of the risks and challenges of cut flower production are associated with markets and marketing. These include understanding market requirements and volumes; competition from cheaper product available on the export market; unfavourable exchange rates; judging demand and securing orders prior to harvest; and oversupply of product driving down prices so that returns to the grower are less than the cost of production.

While excellent horticultural management will go a long way to achieving consistent flower quality, there are several potential risks (weather, pests and disease) that can only be managed to a limited extent; though good managers will be better prepared to cope with these. Crop damage, especially close to harvest time, can significantly reduce the number of stems suitable for selling and that season’s income.

Logistical challenges and risks are faced when supplying flowers to florists. The flowers need to be delivered directly over a large geographical area. Therefore, setting up an effective transport network is critical, as is keeping in close contact with customers about orders and payments.

Regulatory considerations

Some Australian native wildflower species, including waxflower, are protected by law and state and territory government authorities administer legislation restricting the commercial use of these species. For some species of Australian native wildflower a licence or permit is needed to pick, trade in and sometimes grow the species. It is recommended that you contact your state authority for details of the regulations, which may change from time to time. Further information on license requirements can be found in the RIRDC publication Getting Started in Wildflower Growing – How to grow native Australian and South African species for the cut flower market

In addition to state and territory government regulations, the Australian Government requires that growers and exporters have permits to export certain native flower products. For more information on export permits, visit the Australian Government Department of Environment and the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.

Publications

Publications/information

Emerging animal and plant industries: Their value to Australia RIRDC report (2014)

Getting Started in Wildflower Growing – How to grow native Australian and South African species for the cut flower market RIRDC publication (2013)

What Cut Flower is that? The essential care and handling guide for cut flower professionals RIRDC publication (2013)

Wildflower Irrigation Handbook RIRDC publication (2013)

Improved Market Access for Australian Wildflowers through Ecolabelling RIRDC publication (2012)

On-farm Evaluation of Grafted Wildflowers for Commercial Cut Flower Production RIRDC Publication (2012)

Quality specifications for waxflower RIRDC publication (2010)

Quality specifications for pearlflower RIRDC publication (2010)

Postharvest Handling of Australian Flowers from Australian Native Plants and Related Species – A Practical Manual RIRDC publication (2010)

Improved Export Market Access for Australian Wildflowers through Integrated Pest Management RIRDC publication (2009)

Maximising root quality of waxflower tube stock suitable for field planting – RIRDC publication (2009)

Nutrient Management of Waxflower for Quality and Yield Under Adequate Irrigation Levels – RIRDC publication (2008)

New Crop Industries Handbook RIRDC Publication (2004)

Improving profit for flower growers RIRDC publication (2004)

Insect control of waxflower Department of Agriculture and Food WA (2016)

Other resources

NSW Department of Environment & Heritage website – for information on licences and regulations for some protected and threatened native flower species

Australian Government Department of Environment – for information on exporting Australian native species

Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources – for information on exporting agricultural products

Flower Association of Queensland Inc – Queensland industry organisation

Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority – for information on the use of chemicals and pesticides in agriculture

Industry Bodies

WildFlowers Australia represents the wildflower industry, including growers, wholesalers, exporters and importers, flower and foliage buyers, research and extension specialists and plant growers.

Image Gallery

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Bridal Pearl waxflower

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Purple Pride variety of Waxflower

Related Publications

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Emerging Animal and Plant Industries - Their Value to Australia (2nd Edition)

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What Cut Flower is That? The essential care and handling guide for cut flower professionals

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Getting Started in Wildflower Growing - How to grow native Australian and South African species for the cut flower market

18.02.13

Wildflower Irrigation Handbook