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Searing temperatures a part of lisianthus flower farming life in north-west Victoria

By Cherie von Hörchner, Sunday January 24, 2021 - 10:54 EDT
ABC image
Sunraysia producer Joe Wright teaches his daughter Kerryn the art of growing flowers. - ABC

Growing flowers in one of the hottest parts of Victoria might seem like a doomed enterprise.

But to stop producers Joe and Jacquie Wright from living out their colourful, summer dream.

"We grow lisianthus predominately," Mr Wright said. 

"Lisianthus can actually handle the heat that we experience here.

"We grow them in a hothouse [and] on a 45 degree day, we've had them at 60 degrees in here.

"They do look a bit sad of a daytime, but of a night time they spruce back up and with a little bit of water and they're back to life."

The 'lizzy' is said to have originated from the Americas with 18th century botanists describing a multitude of species blooming in the Caribbean, Brazil, and Mexico.

Over time, botanists have separated lisianthus into three distinct genus. The most popular, Eustoma, being cultivated in the warm south-eastern climates of the US.

"These are a California wildflower," Mr Wright said.

"They were nicknamed the poor man's rose.

"The original colour was purple or blue, but nowadays you can basically get the colours of the rainbow."

"They're actually bred for the colours. We basically look at seven colours ? whites, pinks, apricots, yellow, green, reds, and blues ? and every now and then you'll get a funny colour."

Spectrum of colours

Lisianthus even come in black, a Mexican relative of the genus known as La Flor de Muerto, or The Flower of Death.

It is an appropriate name for a flower whose colour can be drained by the harsh summer sun.

"We've had pink flowers here turn white. We've had our purples white as well," Mr Wright said.

"We do run shade cloth in our hothouses. If we keep a bit of a shade cloth there [and] we get a cool day and a bit of an overcast day, the actual colour comes back."

Despite its past reputation as the poor man's rose, interest in the pretty flower has increased.

"There is a huge demand in Australia for these flowers," Mr Wright said.

"One of the reasons why the demand's there is they last a long time in a vase.

"A cut flower lisianthus could last anything up to three weeks in a vase.

"We've actually had some of these grow in wintertime and we've had people get seven weeks in a vase."

Beating the heat

Unfortunately, humans are not the only species to find the flower engaging.

Butterflies too are mesmerised by lisianthus, and pretty a picture as that may be, they can make a mess of a crop.

"In wintertime they can actually decimate you in stocks," Mr Wright said.

"Summertime, they're not too bad. We do run predators ? we use a lot of bugs to try and keep them under control."

But it is the heat that is the lisianthus' greatest enemy. nearly wiped out the Wrights' crop.

"We were devastated. We had six days of over 45 degrees," Mr Wright said.

"Our young plants didn't get their roots established enough. Once your roots are established, the heat doesn't affect them.

"We lost nearly two-thirds of our crop and that really put us back behind the eight ball. But we're on top of it now."

Clearly, one has to be diligent to grow the lisianthus. But is it necessary that one be a romantic?

"You'd better ask my wife that," Mr Wright laughed.

"The other day, she said "you didn't buy me flowers for my birthday'. And I said 'well, I've got an acre and a half out there'."


© ABC 2021

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