and imitations of natural flowers are sometimes made for scientific purposes (the collection of glass flowers
at Harvard University
, for example, which illustrates the flora
of the United States), but more often as articles of decoration and ornament.
Materials used in their manufacture have included painted linen and shavings of stained horn in Egypt, gold and silver in ancient Rome, rice-paper in China, silkworm cocoons in Italy, colored feathers in South America, and also wax and tinted shells. Modern techniques involve carved or formed soap, nylon netting stretched over wire frames, ground clay, and mass-produced injection plastic mouldings.
At the beginning of the 18th century the French, who originally learned the art from the Italians, made great advances in the accuracy of their reproductions, and towards the end of that century the Paris manufacturers enjoyed a world-wide reputation. About the same time the art was introduced into England by French refugees, and soon afterwards it spread also to America.
The industry is now a highly specialized one with several different manufacturing processes.
Cloth and paper flowers
Five main processes may be distinguished:
- The first step consists of putting the fabric in gelatine in order to stiffen it.
- The second consists of cutting up the various fabrics and materials employed into shapes suitable for forming the leaves, petals, etc.; this may be done with scissors, but more often with stamps that can cut through a dozen or more thicknesses at one blow.
- The veins of the leaves are next impressed by means of a die, and the petals are given their natural rounded forms by goffering irons of various shapes.
- The next step is to assemble the petals and other parts of the flower, which is built up from the center outwards;
- The fifth is to mount the flower on a stalk of brass or iron wire wrapped with suitably colored material, and to add the leaves to complete the spray.
Paper and cloth flowers are also made with origami.
There are two methods:
- Carved: A bar with layered colored soap is mounted in a lathe, and circular grooves are chiseled into it. The finished flower is symmetric and regular, but the flowers are not identical and can be called handmade.
- Molded: An oil-less soap milled to a powder is mixed with water, and the paste is used as a modelling material. Leaf and petal textures are stamped or rolled onto the soap. This is an expensive, labour-intensive process.
Clay flowers are made of powdered clay mixed with water and coloring.
Even though somewhat less realistic than the plastic ones, stylized and good taste clay flowers can be a great addition to any environment.
is used for mass manufacture of plastic flowers. Plastic is injected into a preformed metal die.
The journal Ethnobotany Research and Applications has published a tongue-in-cheek paper that claims to be the culmination of a six-year project in the exhaustive taxonomy of artificial plants, and lumped the group into a single family called the Simulacraceae ("the family of simulated plants").
A condensed version of this article has also appeared in the Annals of Improbable Research
The authors also maintain a website at http://simulacraceae.org.