Dye-Infused Plants: The Point The Industry Is Missing

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'Princess Alexia' anthurium

Fake. Repulsive. Garbage.

They’re among the many harsh words critics have used to describe ‘Blue Mystique,’ the dye-infused orchid Silver Vase unveiled at the 2011 Tropical Plant Industry Exhibition (TPIE). ‘Blue Mystique’ has undoubtedly been subjected to more criticism in the last year from within the industry than any other variety. The criticisms are mainly focused on how the blue orchid is produced and how it was, at one time, marketed.

The dye-infusion technique, critics argue, is an insult to the breeders who develop more natural varietal differences in orchids and other plants. The main criticism of Silver Vase’s marketing was that consumers initially weren’t aware the blue orchid they were purchasing reblooms white.

Silver Vase has since developed a message for tags, signage and its website that ‘Blue Mystique’ does indeed rebloom white. But, the technique Silver Vase uses to make orchids blue continues to rock a number of horticulturists at their core. Richard Drummond, the owner of Landscape Logistics, a 12-acre landscape supply company and retail nursery, is one horticulturist who’s sounded off on ‘Blue Mystique’ and the dye-infusion technique.

“Anyone can dye a plant blue but I absolutely do not understand how this trickery has come to be legitimized by any respectable nursery, retailer, wholesaler, broker or customer,” Drummond says. “This is an insult to all true botanists – past, present and future – especially those who were intelligent, determined and astute enough to develop true varietal differences in orchids or any other type of real plant.”

Drummond and others are entitled to their opinions. But if consumers truly want ‘Blue Mystique’ and other dye-infused plants – and based on the demand Silver Vase has had for it, consumers do – does it really matter what those in the supply chain think of the orchid?

The Unique Opportunity

The question is one the Silver Vase team considered long before it introduced ‘Blue Mystique’ at TPIE. But considering the industry desperately needs to cultivate new customers and few varieties generate “wows,” Silver Vase wasn’t afraid to take a chance in this instance.

“We knew since the beginning we were going to be facing [criticism], but we were ready to take on the heat,” says Marcella Lucio, Silver Vase’s marketing director. “We wouldn’t have any buzz if we were passé. You have to keep up with the times. There are new techniques coming and we tried this one out. We thought it would generate some opportunity, so we went and ahead and did it.”

What Greenhouse Grower Readers Are Saying …

“We are an industry of plant nerds who hold our plants and Latin naming on a silver platter. But we are first a service industry, and we should hold our customer demands before our personal preferences. Absolutely sell a dyed plant, a glittered poinsettia or a bunch of blue tie-dyed cut flowers. Remember, if they aren’t buying real plants, consumers will buy fake ones.”

– Olivia Sellards, Syngenta Flowers

“Let’s make sure people actually do want to buy these and that they’re not just asking for them and then refusing to come back to buy them. I just see this over and over in the trade: lots of hype about new interesting plants and presumably lots of interest. There’s a big difference between the oohing and aahing about a new plant and the oohing and aahing followed by the customer carrying it home.”

– Paul Riddell, Texas Triffid Ranch

“Let me remind everybody that our industry’s products are becoming commodities year after year and garnishing lower and lower prices every season. If the dyed plants sell and profits are good then do them, and do lots of them. Six out of ten of these plants will be dead before they reflower anyway. If these are fraud then don’t ever get a credit card with an intro APR. Don’t get an ARM-type mortgage on your house. Don’t get a cable/satellite bundle because eventually all these things change. Don’t tie your hands on something that could be a profit maker because it does not fit inside your paradigm of normalcy.”

– Brent Troost, Zylstra Greenhouses

 

‘Blue Mystique’ proved to be the opportunity of the year for Silver Vase. The orchid opened a new door with existing customers and gave non-customers a reason to give the South Florida grower a call. Plus, the new color resonated with consumers despite the retail price ranging between $29.99 and $39.99.

“A lot of the consumers who ventured out don’t have a lot of disposable income,” Lucio says. “But they told themselves they could make this expense because it’s so unique that they’ll enjoy it for the price they’re paying.”

‘Blue Mystique’ isn’t for everyone, of course. Fortunately, Lucio gets that. She has her own product preferences, but her job as a marketer is to keep an open mind to the consumer’s vast preferences and not her own. Marketers who target consumers narrowly are ones bound to serve a limited market, after all.

“There are different tastes out there and we have to open our minds to that,” Lucio says. “Sometimes, I get lost in my own personal opinion and taste, but I can’t do that because not everyone is Marcella and not everyone likes what I like. So we have to think about what the consumer, particularly women, like.”

Silver Vase Isn’t Alone

Silver Vase isn’t the only grower worldwide who’s adopted the dye-infusion technique. Eurocactus is producing echeverias in wild colors, and RijnPlant Breeding is offering its Princess Alexia anthuriums in blue and yellow. Both companies are based in the Netherlands, and RijnPlant saw the same market opportunity Silver Vase did.

“Dying the plants draws the interest of a wider public, and that’s good for the industry,” says Michel van Rijn, director of RijnPlant. “We shouldn’t forget that too many consumers nowadays don’t buy plants at all or judge plants as ‘not exciting enough.’”

RijnPlant, like Silver Vase, spent considerable time trialing the dye-infused Princess Alexias. In RijnPlant’s case, van Rijn says two years were spent trialing the anthuriums before they were taken to market. He also indicates the paint used for dye in Princess Alexias derives from the food industry. So in some ways the process is natural, van Rijn says.

Consumer safety is yet another reason for extensive Mystique trials at Silver Vase.

“We are doing ours in a safe way, ensuring that plants last for the end consumer and that there’s nothing harmful about it for anybody,” Lucio says.

Takeaways

After a year of passionate debate about the dye-infusion technique, Lucio has few, if any, regrets about pushing the Mystiques to market. After all, the opportunities the orchid line created for Silver Vase have been tremendous.

“The biggest opportunity for us was to be heard and put on everyone’s radar,” Lucio says. “Yes, the sales came, but the opportunity to have people contact us is the number one thing we’ve gained with the Mystique line.”

Still, one lesson Silver Vase learned in having such a popular premium line is that sales of other products can suffer. To many of Silver Vase’s newest customers, the operation is the one that grows the blue orchid. But Silver Vase also offers a large assortment of Phalaenopsis orchids and bromeliads, and it doesn’t want customers to lose sight of those lines.

“In the very beginning, some focus did shift away from our assortment because everybody was asking us about blues,” Lucio says. “We got very involved with everything related to the Mystiques that we probably put the assortment in the backseat.

“But the regular [Phalaenopsis] are our bread and butter. We don’t know where these Mystiques are going to go – are they long lasting or a huge trend that in five years no one takes advantage of? So we’ve got to go back to offering what we are all about.”

Kevin Yanik is the former managing editor of Greenhouse Grower.
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    19 comments on “Dye-Infused Plants: The Point The Industry Is Missing

    1. Nancy Maddox

      On 1/16/2012, I purchased a blue orchid. The cost was 39.99 plus tax. Had I known that this plant would rebloom white I would never had made that purchase. There is nothing on the tag that indicates this orchid will rebloom white, I still have that tag and can prove it. I feel like I have been scammed and being a widow on a fixed income, I am extremely sorry I have been duped into believing this orchid would stay blue.

    2. Dennis Smith

      In reference to your blue orchid which I just purchased, since I live just south of Ocala and am not too far from Homestead, can I bring my plant back to you, after the blooms drop, for a reinfusion?

    3. Jo Ann Jones

      Just a little not to say……….I did not read the tag because I just assumed that the color of the flowers were what they are! Who wouldn!!! Well I paid 25.00 ea. for the blue and the Lila… Was very disapointed to find out that they come back white.. If I had wanted white I would have bought white.. I'd like them to stay the color I bought… Alot of trouble to take them back.. 50.00 plus tax is a lot of money……….. Still disapointed!!!!

    4. Jo Ann Jones

      Seems to me like others r disapointed too about the flowers not staying the color they r when u buy them… U send me the info or what to infuse them with!! The color I want is the color flower I bought!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    5. callie

      Yes, disappointment here, too. The tag is misleading and does not specifically say blue does not last. Want my money back or the recipe to make it blue again!

    6. Ken

      Lighten up people. The flowers are beautilul and the tag does say next blooming will be white.. I got a blue for my wife on mothers day and she loved it. Hard to choose which color is prettiest though. Can the die be purchased or will food coloring work? Would apprecieage knowing. Thank You

    7. Sandie

      My wonderful son purchased one of your blue phalaenopis orchids for me for Mother's day. It is lovely and we have thoroughly enjoyed it. Now it is sending out a new spike of blooms which are of course white. I am not disappointed, I knew when he gave it to me that it had been colored and would not repeat. I still love it and am thrilled that it is happy and reblooming. I love phalaenopis orchids no matter the color. Thank you for the pleasant experience of a blue orchid which matched my living room decor perfectly.

    8. ANITA PENNINGTON

      I BOUGT MY ORCHID AT KROGERS,FOR 29.99.THE FLORIST THERE TOLD ME THAT THE FLOWER HAD BEEN DYED,BUT BY ADDING FOOD COLOR TO THE PLANT,THE NEW GROTH WOULD BE BLUE AGAIN. OVER WATERING,UNDER WATERING AND FAILING TO FEED THE FLOWER IS THE DEATH WARRANT. I'LL BUY AGAIN. BY THE WAY MS.MADDOX,WHATS AN ELDERLY LADY ON A FIXED INCOME DOING SPENDING 39.99 ON A FLOWER?

    9. joyce belcher

      i also was fooled i purchased ! orchid and loved it assuming it was indeed a color variety my husband purchased another for me for my birthday a year later when it rebloomed white i was disgusted that i was taken for the money i spent on it we should all be given the dye free of charge to keep the blue color we were not warned like purchasers now are. it is a shame for someone to make money under false pretenses!!!!

    10. Terri

      It's Christmas morning and I just gave my hubbie his Mystic Blue Orchid. He was soooo excited. He has looked at this plant at least a dozen times and committed how he would love to have one. After he read the label he brought it to me and said "how disappointing ". So we went straight to your web site to investigate this dye infused orchid. By the way…we had no idea it was even possible to do this to orchids. It was soooo worth every bit of the $29.99 for a"BLUE ORCHID " but not for a white one. We will enjoy this bloom but VERY DISAPPOINTED that once it's finished blooming the BLUE orchid will be gone.

    11. Mary Burdette

      Yes, if anyone finds out how to make my purple orchid purple again, let me know, I know most people say its food coloring? I would be willing to give it a Shot LOL?

    12. Janet Faulhaber

      I just purchased a Mintie Mystique orchid as I was struck by the soft green color with a darker center tinged with blue. It is a truly stunning flower. Now that I have the flower home, I fully read the tag and see that it's a white orchid. My fault for not reading but I never knew you could dye orchids. I am extremely disappointed and never would have spent the money for a plain white orchid. Would Silver Vase consider selling infusion kits? If not, I will steer clear of their products and read labels completely before buying. My pleasure over this special treat for myself has been totally deflated.

    13. William Rasmussen

      Here is how I dyed a white orchid blue. I posted it on you tube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=doNSJJvfavQ 


    14. Angie Bumgarner

      Incredibly disappointed that this company sells plants that will re-bloom in a different color. Pointing out that the tag specifies this is ridiculous. WHY would I read the tag before buying it? Perhaps a big red warning tag would be more appropriate. I feel taken, which significantly puts a damper on the pleasure I would have gotten from the flowers. I will make sure to buy from companies OTHER than Silver Vase in the future.

    15. m elfers

      Lee Fennell was my grandfather. If you do not know who he is then you really haven't been part of the Orchid growers in the US. He must be flipping in his grave about an orchid that was dyed to become another colored flower. He spent many long nights and days with his orchids. All the original orchids he collected were kept at the Orchid Jungle. Only the hybrids were sold all over the US. I have 20 flowering now out of the 25 and only 5 that have not sent up a shoot. Guess what color they were when I bought them?

    16. Barbara D'Angelo

      I guess I was not the only one duped about the color, although true blue is an unusual color for many flowers. I carefully took the tag off when I got home, it was in a spot I wouldn't have been able to read the back in the store and in print too small for me to read without glasses anyway. What a surprise that it says it will come back "gorgeous white", there is no real indication that this was a dyed flower in plain sight, I didn't even realize that orchards were being dyed to miss-represent the color. The only real reason to look at the tag on most flowers is to find the care instructions not to be informed you that you have been "taken" and your beautiful expensive blue orchard will become a common place white inexpensive one on the next blooming. I guess we live in a day and age that even buying a flower you can have one put over on you unless you carefully read all the fine print.

    17. Tia

      I paid 29.99 for my Blue Mystique. The tag says nothing about me blooms being white. I had no idea and now looking at this boring white bloom, still in it’s fancy Silver Vase vase, I am furious. I feel ripped-off and I am going to complain to Silver Vase and Home Depot.

    18. Regina Keating

      I have never had an orchid bloom so long as the Silver Vase orchid still blooming its head off on my counter right now, on January 4 having been bought on October 9, 2013. When my boyfriend gave it to me in October I loved it but said to myself, “he doesn’t know that without buds on it, this orchid surely won’t bloom long. I would have chosen one with lots of buds.” Well, just today I see one of the first blooms on a spike is just beginning to fade and curl. There are 14 other beautiful blooms on two spikes. I am enjoying this beauty tremendously!

      These other comments seem to be all about the blue dyed orchid so maybe I’m leaving my comment in the wrong place. Just for the record, though I wouldn’t buy a deep blue orchid because I know it is not a natural color, I am happy some grower has made them available for people who are seeking that color for whatever reason they might have: a Hanuka color, room decor, July 4 celebration?

      I sought out your website specifically to tell you how very happy I am with my Silver Vase purple Phalaenopsis orchid. I want to be sure you know that from now on I will be seeking out the Silver Vase name on a tag before purchasing on orchid or bromeliad.