The phlox (Phlox paniculata) that we are familiar with as a cut flower is the summer or garden phlox. The genus includes 50 to 60 annual and perennial species that are mostly found in North America. The P. paniculata is found from New York to Georgia, and west to Arkansas and Illinois.
The name Phlox is derived from the Greek word phlego, meaning flame, which refers to the brilliance of the flowers. It was a name used by Theophrastus, a Greek botanist in 370 to 285 B.C., to describe plants with flame-coloured flowers. European botanists found it a fitting name for these brilliantly coloured New World plants when they were discovered in 1730.
The native or wild species was magenta in colour. Extensive selection and cross-breeding within the wild species, as well as breeding between species, has resulted in the colour selection that we have today. Colours range from pure white to delicate blush pinks, to purples, through to deep wine-crimsons. Some cultivars have paler areas, while others have dark centres or eyes. One of the most popular bi-colours is “Bright Eyes.” Varieties not only vary in colour and flower size, but also in the time they flower.
Breeding programs have developed cultivars specifically for the cut flower industry. The problem with the popular garden varieties was that they bloomed when everyone already had them in their gardens, which resulted in low demand and prices. The cut flower varieties have different blooming windows, provide a wider colour selection and a better vase life.
Plants are propagated by division or root cuttings. Seeds are difficult to germinate and need special cold treatment in order to germinate. Production from seed is slow and results in great variability in colours, flower shape, and flowering time. It takes an extra year or two for plants grown from seed to reach flowering size as opposed to those grown from divisions.
Phlox is often used as a filler in bouquets and is especially effective in any wedding bouquet, table centerpiece or flower arrangement.