Brown is beautiful.
Brown evokes feelings of security, warmth, and comfort. It is a natural color that is seen as stable and connected to the earth. It sets a mood of reliability, dependability, and competence. Yellows in the subtle light register as brown, providing subtle cues that everything is right with the world.
Everyone who loves flowers should seek out brown flowers. There are brown flowers for indoor arrangements and outdoor gardens. There are brown flowers for small plantings and large plantings and naturalized landscapes and fields.
Buying brown flowers from florists tends to be easier than raising them on your own, but raising your own brown flowers gives you a chance for an abundant display. Chances are that you will kill a lot of brown flowers on your way to becoming an expert in growing them. I would know.
In 40 years of gardening, I have managed to kill every flower in this article, usually by overwatering or giving plants too much fertilizer. (Just ask any honest orchid grower if they ever accidentally killed a prize plant.) But if you just relax and let your plants grow at a natural pace, they will reward you with days, weeks, and even months of wonderful, brown blooms.
That principle is particularly true of raising brown orchids. Let’s take a look at the beautifully brown orchids you can nurture with copious background information and a lot of practice.
Orchids are famously fussy plants. But many orchids are easy to raise. They just need to come with an owner’s manual.
Orchids thrive in strong light but need protection from the afternoon sun. (The dendrobiums tolerate more afternoon sun than other species of orchids.) They need air circulation around their roots so the roots can dry out, but the roots also need frequent misting to provide moisture.
Although orchids are grown in tropical settings, most orchids are sensitive to excessive heat and actually prefer their surroundings to be on the chilly side. Most tropical orchids do best at temperatures between 50° F (10° C) and 85° F (29° C).
The orchids you can buy in supermarkets come packed in peat moss in tight plastic pots. These are not ideal growing conditions for orchids. There is no airflow around the roots, and the roots never get to dry out. Root rot is inevitable.
When you buy an orchid at the supermarket, you need to report it. Orchids grow best in specialized pots containing a gritty, chunky mixture to hold the orchid in place. These pots have slats in the bottom to let water flow through. To report your orchid:
- Lift the orchid gently from the pot in which it came at the store and remove as much moss as you can.
- Healthy roots will be green and white. Remove any dead, blackened roots.
- Place the orchid into an orchid pot and fill in around it with a potting mixture. The orchid should be anchored in place, but the potting mixture should not be packed.
- Water the orchid. Do not use water from the tap if you have a home desalination unit; there will be too many mineral salts in the water. Most municipal water supplies are OK if they do not contain too much chlorine. Rainwater is best. Orchids tolerate water with a pH from 6.5 to 7.5.
- Feed your orchids with orchid food every two weeks when they are blooming and every four weeks during their rest periods.
- Orchids need lower temperatures at night than during the day to flower. Because most orchids are tropical plants, they prefer an even, 12-hour cycle of light and dark.
Now let’s take a look at the possibilities among beautiful, brown orchids.
Table of Contents
- Cattleya angerei
- Cattleya velutina
- Dendrobium discolor, also known as Antler Orchid
- Cymbidium “Charlie Brown”
- Cymbidium Tracyanum, also known as Tracy’s Orchid
- Golden Leaf Edged-Orchid
- Cymbidium iridioides, also known as the Iris-Like Orchid
- Cymbidium aloifolium, also known as Aloe-Leafed Cymbidium
- Cymbidium hybrids
- Phalaenopsis cornu-cervi, also known as Deer-Antlered Orchid
- Charlie Brown Rose
- Graham Thomas Austin Rose
- Lady Banks Rose
- Musk Rose
- Silky Rose
- Soleil d’Or Rose
- Dahlia Vintage Yellow-Brown
- Gaillardia, also known as Blanket Flower
- Feather Reed Grass
- Globe Thistle
- Multi-colored pansy
- Pussy Willow
- Tuberous Begonia
Cattleya orchids from Central and South America come in all colors, including brown. This orange-brown orchid from Argentina offers a beautiful display of brown petals, but only offers it once. Cattleyas in general do not rebloom from old canes.
This rare species from Brazil features brownish bronze petals with deep red or burgundy spots around a white lip with purple stripes and a golden throat. The velutina exudes fragrance throughout its blooming season. It likes shade but tolerates more warmth than most orchids. Make sure to water it within a day or its roots drying out, but do not subject this orchid to constant moisture.
Dendrobium discolor, also known as Antler Orchid
Dendrobium discolor isn’t a “discolored” orchid, it is a di-colored orchid. Each stem is about 20 inches (50 cm) long and bears between eight and 20 light brown, reddish brown, tan, or yellowish flowers. The flowers are 1 to 3 inches (about 2.5 to 8 cm) wide and long and bear wavy, long petals. The lip of the flower is mauve or purple.
Dendrobium has an unusually long flowering period, usually about six months, provided the plant is provided with a combination of 4 to 6 hours of strong sunlight every day and nearly constant humidity. This orchid prefers daytime temperatures of about 80° F (27° C) and nighttime temperatures around 68° F (20° C). In the winter, when the plant is not blooming, it’s OK to mist the plant every day to give it adequate moisture, but it may need additional moisture (as long as its growing medium is not soggy) when it is blooming.
Cymbidium “Charlie Brown”
The cymbidiums are a genus of 52 species of evergreen orchids. “Charlie Brown” cymbidiums come in a variety of autumn brown tones with notes of yellow and peach and a deep crimson throat. Cymbidiums prefer to grow outside in a moist location with bright shade from late spring until the end of summer. The rest of the year keep them in a bright window next to a humidifier. Don’t report them until their growing medium has broken down. Cymbidiums don’t like to be disturbed.
Cymbidium Tracyanum, also known as Tracy’s Orchid
If you are looking for a cold-hardy orchid, this is it. Cymbidium Tracyanums (the trade name and the botanical name are the same) can tolerate temperatures down to nearly freezing. They blossom in huge, four-inch, fragrant flowers in the fall. The plant’s cold-hardiness reflects its Tibetan origins.
Golden Leaf Edged-Orchid
This brown orchid from southeastern China is also known as the golden-edged orchid and the yellow margin orchid. If you can place it outdoors, it will release a compound called 3-hydroxyoctanoic acid into the air that attracts bees. (I once had bees gathering on a window screen when this orchid was in bloom in my sunroom.) This orchid chemical attracts bees in abundance, but the bees do not attempt to pollinate the orchids until they are maximally brown.
Cymbidium iridioides, also known as the Iris-Like Orchid
Here is a beautiful orchid that combines brown with green, white, and violet. This native of eastern Nepal has a long history as both a food (an addition to a Himalayan curry stew known as olatshe or olachoto) and as a medicine, its leaves turned into a paste to apply to open wounds to stop bleeding. Because of its extensive use in native medicine, it has become exceedingly rare in its native habitat.
Cymbidium aloifolium, also known as Aloe-Leafed Cymbidium
This orchid with tones of brown, burgundy, yellow, and white also has distinctively aloe-like, hollow leaves. In nature, it sometimes clings to bare rock in locations with dappled sunlight and high humidity. Its ability to plant itself against a rocky background makes it an unusual opportunity for creative floral design.
Many of the brown cymbidiums you find in tropical plant shops aren’t identified by species — and that’s OK. When you are just starting out with orchids there is no need to pay a premium for a relatively rare orchid. If it is appealing to you, try to grow it!
Phalaenopsis cornu-cervi, also known as Deer-Antlered Orchid
Five petals of brown and crimson on a green background surround white “antler” in this heat-tolerant orchid native to Indochina, Indonesia, and the Philippines. More than most other orchids, the deer-antlered orchid tolerates heat (temperatures up to about 100° F, or 37° C) and direct sunlight, surviving on dew.
But even this orchid needs daily moisture to survive high heat. Be careful not to leave water standing in the axil of the leaves, because they can rot. Any excess water must be removed within two hours by blotting with a paper towel. Check on this plant every day to make sure it is receiving enough moisture.
Orchids offer infinite variety in colors and shapes, but roses are an easier way to cultivate a reliable supply of brown flowers for floral arrangements and background plantings. Let’s take a look at the brown roses.
There are six simple rules for raising roses:
- Give roses full sun. Roses require full sun at least six hours a day. Morning sun is best since it dries the leaves and prevents the growth of molds and mildew.
- Don’t skimp on soil amendments. Roses love fertile soil. A pH between 6 and 7 is optimal.
- Mulch your roses to prevent loss of moisture, overheating of the roots in the summer, and freezing roots in the winter.
- Prune your roses once in late winter, preferably just a week or so before the last frost, to encourage new growth that will produce blooms.
- Water roses deeply but infrequently. You want to encourage them to grow deep roots that keep the plant nourished and well-watered.
- Inspect roses every day to stay ahead of diseases and pests.
Now let’s consider some beautiful brown roses you can find at some florist shops or grow on your own.
Charlie Brown Rose
These famous miniature roses come in a variety of colors including brown. The blooms are numerous but small, under 2 inches (5 cm) across. There are 8 to 15 petals on each bloom. This plant blooms in flushes throughout the summer, although late-season blooms are fewer. This miniature rose will not survive harsh winters. Plant in USDA Hardiness Zone 6 or higher.
Graham Thomas Austin Rose
(Hybrid tea rose usually grown on Rosa multiflora rootstock)
This English climbing rose bears double petals of a rich golden brown with a mild fragrance like that of tea. Each of its blooms sports 30 or more petals.
Lady Banks Rose
This rose from the highlands of China produces beautiful light brown blossoms on a long, scrubby vine that can climb as far as 20 feet (6 meters) above ground. It has almost no thorns although some of the stronger shoots may bear prickles. It is among the first roses to bloom every spring. Some flowers may be white or yellow instead of brown, but all will be fragrant.
Gardeners have been growing musk roses for their unique musky scent for over 500 years. Probably originating in the Himalayas, this rose bears blooms of 5 to 7 petals that are followed by edible orange rose hips in the fall. The blooms are not showy, but this plant blooms all summer long.
Bearing beige to white blossoms, this Chinese mountain rose is actually grown for its bright red thorns. The blossoms have just four petals and serve more as an accent to the thorns rather than the other way around. In the winter, the stems bear spiny, red, inedible hips.
Soleil d’Or Rose
(Hybrid tea rose usually grown on Rosa multiflora rootstock)
Orange and yellow and brown define this hybrid tea rose dating from the 1800s. It has fragrant, gorgeous blooms but it is highly prone to a fungal disease known as a black spot that causes the leaves to develop black spots, turn yellow, and fall off, weakening the plant. Growing this rose in desert locations spares the plant from black spot, or the fungus can be treated with regular spraying of antifungal chemicals.
Not an orchid or rose gardener? There are still many options for brown flowers you can raise on your own or ask about at the flower shop.
Cannas have been hybridized for brown blossoms, although you may have look around to find them. It’s blissfully simple to grow cannas for summer and fall color. Just provide the plant with deep soil and lots of moisture and leave it alone. Cannas will bloom for you year after year with a minimum of care.
Dahlia Vintage Yellow-Brown
(Dahlia pinnata Cav.)
This national flower of Mexico comes in a tremendous variety of colors, including a golden brown. In addition to beautiful, brown tones, you can find dahlias shaped like cacti, orchids, pompoms, and waterlilies. Gardeners have to be on the lookout to protect dahlias from snails and slugs, and if you live in a location with winter freezes, you will need to dig up their bulbs in the fall and store them indoors for replanting the next spring.
Daylilies come in several shades of brown. These summer-blooming lilies are easy to grow if they are given water and sun. Providing brown daylilies with afternoon shade helps to preserve deep brown pigments in the blossom until it falls off at night.
Gaillardia, also known as Blanket Flower
Sporting petals of red and yellow and brown, this North American flower can easily “blanket” the ground in mass plantings if it is left alone for a few years. Gaillardia reproduces from both seeds and tubers. There isn’t a lot you have to do to keep them going other than to avoid mowing them. Gaillardia will come back for a month-long bloom without any attention at all year after year.
(Gladiolus communis L.)
There is a gladiolus in every color, including brown. Sometimes described as funnels of fragrance on a wobbly stem, you can plant glads in garden beds every year as an annual, or if you live in USDA Hardiness Zones 8 through 10, let them naturalize so they reappear every year. The benefit from slightly acidic soil (pH 6.5 to 7.0), fertilizer two or three times during their six-week bloom season, and generous, deep watering during drought.
Feather Reed Grass
(Calamagrostis x acutiflora)
This easy-to-grow grass forms seed heads in the spring that provide background color and visual contrast to other flowering plants all summer long. It is so easy to grow that you may want to confine it to its bed, so it does not take over your landscape. Feather reed grass grows best in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 through 8.
When I was about five years old, growing up on the farm, my job was to keep weeds out of a tiny patch of cotton. But I was given strict instructions to leave the globe thistles alone because they fixed nitrogen and attracted bees.
These prickly giants can be sown as an annual every year after all danger of frost has passed for summer-long bloom. They are so easy to grow that if you don’t want them to take over your garden, you should cut them before they go to seed. Thistles add nitrogen back to the soil as they grow as high as 7 feet (2.1 meters) tall over your garden bed. Whether red or brown tones predominate depend on the background colors you give the plant.
(Iris germanica cultivars)
Irises come in every imaginable color, including brown. It is hard to go wrong with iris s a garden plant. Just give them a gritty soil, lots of sun, and water during dry spells, and they will provide you with months of color every spring and summer.
These heat-loving plants with blooms of brown and orange and yellow thrive in summer temperatures that make most flowers wilt. In addition to their summer-long display of color, marigolds also repel insects. Provide marigolds with well-prepared loamy, well-fertilized soil. High alkalinity, up to pH 8.0, is OK. You can grow marigolds from seed or buy young plants at garden centers.
These cold-loving annuals are available in garden centers every fall, usually already in bloom. You can find pansies in every color, including bi-color and tri-color pansies with brown tones. If you live in a region that gets exceptionally cold winters, in USDA Hardiness Zones 1 through 3, you will need to protect them from snow and cold with mulch, but gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 and higher can use them as a late-fall or all-winter planting. Pansies are not heat-tolerant.
Among the first flowers of spring are the brownish, grayish fur-like catkins of the pussy willow, so named because of their coat’s resemblance to cat fur. All willows prefer to be planted near a reliable water source, like a stream. They are not fussy about the type of soil and do not need annual fertilizer if they are planted in soil that is at least 3 feet (about a meter) deep.
These miniature relatives of the sunflower come in a variety of colors. The same family of plants that includes the yellow and black Black-Eyed Susan also includes “rudbeckia” of bright brown, orange, yellow, and red. Rudbeckia are hardy plants that grown well in hot climates and clay soils. Once you get a stand of rudbeckia started, it will come back every year on its own.
(Begonia x tubeohybrida)
Tuberous begonias provide summer flowers even in shade, where most other flowers are not happy. Growing begonias with brown, orange and yellow petals in shade will bring out their naturally brown tones and add depth to your color scheme. Be aware that begonias can dry out easily and need supplemental water in summer drought.
Most people haven’t ever seen a brown tulip, let alone grown one, but there are over 35 cultivars of tulips with brown tones. The late-blooming Absalon tulip is an excellent choice if you live in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 through 7. Provide tulips with well-drained, moderately acidic soil (pH 6 to 7), lots of sun, and shelter from the wind.