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Types of Floral Centerpieces to Avoid for your Dinner Party

Updated on October 29, 2012
An oleander tree. Delightful flowers, stems and bark, but highly toxic.
An oleander tree. Delightful flowers, stems and bark, but highly toxic. | Source

You might imagine that most of a florists training is in how to arrange flowers, but a great deal of it is devoted to how to identify, care for and prepare flowers so that they last as long as possible.Florists also learn which flowers to use for different arrangement types, so if you plan to buy a dinner party centerpiece, your florist should be able to advise your whether your choice of flowers is suitable, but if you're making your own centerpiece, and especially if you are using flowers from the garden, there are a number of points you need to consider.

Scent is important, as is shape, you'll also want to avoid flowers that can stain you, your guests or your table linen, but above all, you'll want to avoid using flowers that are toxic, you'll be surprised how many plants are!

Smelly Centerpieces

Most people love scented flowers. These are great in a vase in the entry way, the living room, the bedroom, all over the house, but think carefully before you put scented flowers on the dinner table.

Some flowers, oriental lilies come immediately to mind, have a glorious scent in the evenings, which you might think would make them ideal for dinner parties. The heads are quite large, you can make a centerpiece very easily by cutting the stems short and adding them to a square glass vase. I've always loved these lilies but when I was forced to spend time in hospital recently I found that many of the nurses would not go near my flowers in the evening when the scent was strong. No matter how many people love a particular scent, there are always some who hate it, and worse still the sense of smell can interfere with the sense of taste. The best advice? Avoid strongly scented flowers in any dinner party centerpiece.

Toxic Centerpieces

When you look at a garden flower, you don't generally think about something that's poisonous, but you'd be surprised how many are. Many florists these days work in nitrile gloves in order to avoid contact with sap, which in many cases can cause skin irritation on contact, and stomach irritation if ingested.

Where flowers are used in a centerpiece there are several ways in which they can cause problems.

  • The hostess may handle some of the food after coming into contact with poisonous sap.
  • Berries or leaves may drop on the table and become mixed with foods, such as salads.
  • A hostess may use a poisonous flower or leaf as a garnish.

Of course there are many delightful flower and plants which can be easten and used as part of a salad, but it is important to check if you plan to use something front he garden. For example, one outstanding culprit is the oleander tree which has delightul flowers you might easily be tempted to use in a centerpiece, however every part of this tree is poisonous, even the fumes if the wood is burned. Other flower/plants you may find in your garden and want to avoid in a centerpiece are

  • Oleander has poisonous flowers and irritating stems - toxic fumes if burned.
  • Anthurium - the flowers are poisonous if eaten.
  • Ranunculus - can cause dermatitis when handled. Not good to eat.
  • Calla Lily. Toxic.
  • Caladium - ornamental leaves poisonous if eaten can irritate the skin.
  • Clematis - don't touch these with bare skin even when pruning.
  • Daffodills have very irritating sap which often causes a problem for florists. In the house they sometimes cause problems if the bulbs are confused with onions.
  • Delphiniums are toxic if eaten.
  • Iris. Bulbs are toxic and can cause skin irritation.
  • Lily of the valley - seeds and berries are extremely toxic.

FlowersThat Stain

My grandmother was very fond of stargazer lilies. These are large pink flowers with wonderful dashes of color all over the petals. She often had a large vase of these in the center of her table and they broke all the rules; they were too tall, strongly scented and they had a great deal of pollen. All you had to do was brush against them and you'd be covered in bright orange pollen. fingers would stain, but wash. Clothes and table linens were not so lucky. There are quite a few flowers with obvious pollen which will stain you, your clothes are your furniture. The good news is that you don't have to avoid them completely, just be sure to cut off the pollen bearing anthers before they cause any damage.

Tall Floral Centerpieces

Tall centerpieces can look spectacular on a table, but they are, generally quite wrong for a domestic dinner party if used as a centerpiece in the literal sense. Tall arrangements built around a candlestick or candelabra are a great way to give atmosphere to a dinner table, but they work best on a long table, placed relatively close to the end. If you have a round dinner table, be sure to design your centerpiece to be low so people can see each other across the flowers. If you want to splash out on something tall, arrange two candlestick arrangements on the fireplace, or place a tall extravagant arrangement on your buffet where there is more space.

The Natural World

The natural world is filled with beauty, no wonder we want to bring that to our dinner tables, but nature is not passive. Nature is out to get us. Flowers, like people, intend to survive, and poisons are a great way to avoid being eaten. I know some women who dislike roses becase of the thorns, believe me, that's nothing to the poisons many plants contain.

How to Make the Perfect Centerpiece

No hostess wants to offend or injure her guests, so here are some simple steps you can take when creating your perfect centerpiece.

  • Use gloves to avoid contact with any sap from the flower stems, and wash your hands carefully after working with the flowers.
  • Get to know the flowers in your garden and plant benign varieties.
  • Remove any sources of pollen before arranging
  • Don't choose flowers with a strong smell.
  • Make sure your arrangement is low. Your guests will enjoy the flowers more.


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