Autumn is the time when nature’s bounty is all around. Fields and roadsides are full of mature wildflowers, showing their final glory in shades of golds, russets, and purples. Many of these can be gathered to be enjoyed later as no-cost flower arrangements for harvest and Thanksgiving celebrations. An easy preservation technique to try is simple air-drying. Many species of wildflowers are suitable for drying — and they are easy-to-find. Working with these dried flowers, stems and seed heads will give hours of creative pleasure — and produce lovely autumn and Thanksgiving decorations.
Try These Wildflowers for Dried Floral Arrangements
Here are a few wildflowers that will add texture, color, and fascinating form to autumn decor:
- Dock (Rumex spp) This sturdy plant is easily found in neglected fields and roadsides.There are several species of dock, all related to garden sorrel which produces similar seed heads. Depending upon when picked, dock seed heads will dry in shades of green, red, or very dark brown. Use stems in arrangements, or break off small segments of seeds for wreaths. Pick and dry the seed head at any stage — from the new green stage right through to the dark brown mature stage.
- Milkweed (Asclepia syriaca) The common milkweed is a butterfly-attracting denizen of dry fields and roadside. It is well-known for its plump pods packed with downy seeds. Starting out as long, grey-green, wart-covered pods, they mature into fascinating curved shapes which add great interest to wreaths and floral arrangements. Also, they may be painted in harvest russets or golds. Other species of milkweed produce smooth pods and may be found in swampy areas. Pick seedpods when dried in the wild to their natural grey-browns.
- Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) This spectacular and versatile wildflower can be used in a host of imaginative ways. The tall tapers, when dry, are majestic and will dominate their companions. Use in a roomy spot where a dramatic accent is needed. The velvety leaves can be pressed and dried and then used in wreaths. The flowering ends of the spires (without the tall stem or leaves) can also be dried and used in wreaths or arrangements. Pick the tall stems when in flower, or the leaves at anytime.
- Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) Here’s an appealing plant with flat-topped clusters of little golden button-like flowers. It dries beautifully and can be used as a flowered stem, where it contrasts well with any dried dark brown pods. The flower clusters can be used without the stems, adding rich color and texture to arrangements or wreaths. This plant can be widely found at the roadside and waste ground. May be cut at different stages but ideally, pick just before the flowers are fully open. Young plants will dry to a rich yellow, while mature plants will dry to a soft brown.
Picking these four wildflower plants before the seeds mature will control their spread. Although they are lovely in arrangements, they may be considered common weeds by farmers or invasive species by naturalists. Gathering dock, milkweed, mullein, or tansy this way is ecologically friendly.
Tips for Picking and Drying Wildflowers
- The best time to pick stems and blossoms for drying is late morning.
- Generally, pick flowers when they are fully open but still have tightly closed centers.
- To enrich a day of gathering, take a field guide to wildflowers along. It can be invaluable in helping identify and choosing the right plants.
- Remember that garden plants too can be dried and added to fall arrangements. The grey artemisias are especially lovely for wreath bases.
- Let the kids help too — drying wildflowers is a pleasant and no-cost way of gathering material for autumn and Thanksgiving crafts.
- And of course, harvest responsibly.
How to Use Dried Wildflowers
The beauty of creating arrangements from your own dried wildflowers and stems is that there are no rules when using wildcrafted materials. Botanicals from field and forest tend to make naturally understated decorations, especially lovely in rustic settings, but elegant too in traditional decors. Try these uses, and add more from your imagination:
- Small sprigs can be tied into wreaths, arranged in antique tin mugs, or displayed in a beribboned bunch on an antique plate.
- For those with large front porches, a harvest basket full of mixed wildflowers and stems is welcoming.
- Pods, seed heads, blossoms, twigs, and leaves can be blended together in a pottery bowl as a natural pot-pourri. Studying the forms and textures of wildflower close-up can be enjoyable.
- Bunch some stems and dried flowers together and attach a large bow at the base. Use ribbon in burnished autumn gold, tan, or orange for a seasonal effect.
Perfect Thanksgiving Decorations
The four wildflowers here — dock, milkweed, mullein, and tansy — are merely a few out of many plants found in the wild suitable for drying. Try other botanicals too, such as seeds, cones, twigs, small branches, berries, and vines. Whether a single stem in a minimalist decor, or an exuberant bouquet overflowing from a country wicker basket, dried wildflowers have a place in every setting.
Harvest has always been a time of thanksgiving. Adelma Grenier Simmon, the late “First Lady of Herbs” wrote in Country Wreaths from Caprilands, “Harvest rituals and practices of early times varied from country to country yet shared themes of gratefulness for good harvests and hope for future prosperity … From the fruit of the last sheaf, whether it be ears of corn or stalks of wheat, a wreath was made and decorated with field flowers.” Today dried wildflowers from nature’s bounty are still used in Thanksgiving flower arrangements to celebrate harvest time.