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The New

A Rose Is a Rose

May 07, 1987

Some of the newfangled flowers poking their petals out of florist shops these days don't look anything like the mums we used to buy Mom on Mother's Day. Shoot, they don't even look like they were grown on this planet--more probably hatched, like Audrey II from "Little Shop of Horrors."

We even have trouble pronouncing the names: protea, obaki, mini-ilii.

But florists tell us we'd better learn, because flower power these days means stocking exotic tropical flora.

Take the pink mink protea, for instance, a tulip-shaped flower with a black or pink furry edge. Originally from South Africa, it is now grown in Southern California and sells for about $5 each.

"Demand has doubled in the past year," says Paul Surdo, manager of O'Malley's Flowers in Sherman Oaks. "We sell a couple dozen a week."

At the Flower Place in Studio City, which specializes in the unusual and exotic, owners Debbie and Tim Bandy say that until recently, their clientele was mostly movie studio and entertainment people.

However, "the public at large is becoming more comfortable and familiar with exotics," they say.

Two of their biggest sellers are the obaki, which looks like elephant ears, and the hot pink antherium, a long-stemmed, heart-shaped flower with an elongated, cream-colored pistil. There's also the Kangaroo Paw, a tall-stemmed black and chartreuse flower with tentacle-like arms. "It's very strange and quite wonderful," Debbie Bandy says.

Curly willow, a reedy, branch-like plant, adds drama and airiness to floral arrangements, florists say. Ditto for brittle kiwi tree branches.

"They look great in high-tech, Melrose-like restaurants," says Larry Wood, who owns Fleur de Jour in West Hollywood. Plus, they can last up to three weeks, more than twice as long as your garden-variety rose.

Some exotics are flown in from Hawaii and Thailand; Holland is also famous for its pastel-colored, bizarrely shaped blooms. Recently, a Dutch grower bred a black tulip, which should be available on the American market within three years, the Bandys say.

There are no pure black flowers available for commercial sale in Los Angeles. But for Halloween, new-wave parties or the drop-dead dramatic touch at the senior prom, florists will gladly turn white orchids, roses or gardenias into jet-black blossoms.

Bob Tedor, part-owner of Studio City Florist, explains how:

"We just get out the trusty can of black spray paint."

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