Glossy helichrysum, paper flower - Helichrysum bracteatum


This genus includes many species native to Asia and Africa, they can be perennials, annuals or medium-sized shrubs. The annual species are widely cultivated to use the dried flowers. They reach 50-60 cm in height, the stems are erect, rigid, gray-blue, and are covered with oblong or lanceolate leaves, of the same color as the stems; the flowers bloom from spring to the end of summer, solitary or in bunches; most species have yellow-gold or orange flowers, but there are cultivars with white, cream or red flowers; they have paper-like, glossy petals. The perennial species generally have oval or rounded leaves, gray-green, even variegated. These plants are also known by the name fior di carta.


Family and gender
Asteraceae, about 500 species
Type of plant Annuals, biennials, perennials, shrubs or small trees
Exposure Half shade, evergreens
Rustic Generally yes
Ground Well-drained, sandy and even stony soil

Composting limited
Flowering Summer-Fall
Pests and diseases powdery mildew
Propagation Division, cutting, sowing

Helichrysum, botanical name helichrysum, belongs to the asteraceae family and includes several herbaceous and shrubby varieties. Among the herbaceous species we recall some varieties particularly appreciated for their ornamental yield, including Helichrysum bracteatum, Helichrysum thianschanicum, Helichrysum praecurrens, Helichrysum dealbatum and Helichrysum bellidioides. The mildly shrubby species, ie with woody stems, are Helichrysum italicum, Helichrysum stoechas, Helichrysum sibthorpii, Helichrysum orientale, Helichrysum frigidum, Helichrysum retortum and Helichrysum milfordiae. If shrub varieties with good ornamental yield are desired, the following varieties are recommended: Helichrysum sessile, Helichrysum selago, Helichrysum petiolare and Helichrysum plumeum.
These specimens are also known by the name fior di carta.


Place the helichrysis in a sunny place, or in partial shade, they love the spring temperatures, so in the warmer months it is good to shade them slightly; the perennial species bear short frosts, in places with very cold winters it is good to protect them. Absolutely the best exposure for paper flowers is full sun. Only with so much light and heat can they give their best.
They manage to live discreetly even with a few hours of shade a day, but it is absolutely necessary to avoid the complete lack of light.


The cultivation of helichrysis does not pose major problems. They are generally very resistant plants with very limited needs. The important thing is to place the paper flower plants in a condition as similar as possible to that of their original environment.


water the paper flowers regularly from March to October, allowing the soil to dry out very well between one watering and another, withstanding dryness without problems. In the vegetative period, provide fertilizer for flowering plants every 15-20 days.


These plants need very well drained, light and rich soils; mix with balanced sand or perlite soil to increase drainage. The plant adapts to sandy and well-drained soils. Better still if rich in gravel. This species in fact suffers a lot due to water stagnation. It also fears winter humidity. The ideal soil must therefore be to favor the drainage of water and excess moisture. The composition of the soil and its pH change according to the variety. The annual ones prefer acid and fertile soils, the perennial ones and calcareous soils. Some shrubby varieties with a perennial habit do not tolerate calcareous soils at all. Before choosing the soil for the helichrysum, it is therefore advisable to get well acquainted with the nursery workers. They require a poor and well-drained soil. Some species prefer it sandy, others stony.
Only the too compact and clayey substrates that could cause radical asphyxia should be avoided.


The multiplication of paper flowers occurs by seed, directly at home, in March-April; in late summer it is possible to divide perennial plants, placing the new plants thus obtained in a container, they must be grown in a place protected from frost, before being able to plant them the following spring.

Pests and diseases

Pay attention to aphids and cochineal, which ruin the flowers; sometimes the leaves can be affected by powdery mildew. The glossy helichrysum (helicriso bracteatum) the most widespread, known and cultivated variety, fears the attacks of aphids and cochineals, which damage the flowers and suck the plant sap. Fearing humidity and water stagnation, the plant can also be affected by fungal diseases, including mildew or white powder. Another fungal pathology of the plant is the verticillum, which is prevented only by using a well-drained soil. The disease starts from the roots and progressively causes yellowing and leaf fall. They are rarely prey to insects or cryptogams.
It is only necessary to pay attention not to overdo the irrigations that could cause stagnation and rot.
At times, especially in very hot and humid periods, powdery mildew may appear on the leaves and on the buds. It can be fought with specific products, although generally the plant does not suffer such damage as to cause serious deterioration.


There is no precise period in which to repot the paper flower plant. This can vary significantly from one variety to another. In general, it is repotted when the roots can no longer be contained in the jar chosen during the first planting. For repotting, you need to choose only a slightly larger container than the previous one. This rule must be respected for all subsequent repottings.


The glossy helichrysum does not need pruning. The plant should be allowed to grow freely. To avoid cosmetic damage and the development of pests and diseases, it is advisable to periodically remove all dry, withered or damaged parts. Since insects and parasitic fungi can nest in the remains of pruning, it is advisable to proceed immediately with their elimination or burning away from the plant. It is the only cure they need. You can proceed in the fall or spring by cutting all the jets at the base, leaving at least two or three leaf axils from below, without reaching areas where the wood is only more present (because new jets cannot be born from that).
By acting in this way the plant will always remain compact and will flourish abundantly. In fact it produces apical buds on the branches of the year.

Curiosities and uses

In ancient times, the flower of paper was burned together with the bristles of the pig because it was believed that its perfume would be transmitted to lard. Small bunches of helichrysum were also placed next to the clothes to remove the moths and woodworms. The glossy helichrysum is still used today not only as an ornamental plant to decorate flowerbeds, balconies and terraces, but also as a dried species. The drying of the helichrysum flowers does not detract from the aesthetic yield of the plant, which also maintains its coloring unaltered in this state.


The origin of the word Helichrysum derives from the Greek Eliochryson and from the Latin Elichrysum. The first derives from elios, which means 'sun', while the second from chrysor, which means 'gold'. It is also said that the ancient priests used to decorate the altars of the gods with helichrysum flowers. They chose this species because they remained unchanged even in case of drying. Precisely because of this peculiarity, the helichrysum is also called "Semprevivo Perpetuino", that is a species that never goes into decay.


From the glossy helichrysum an essential oil rich in beneficial properties is extracted. Rich in tannins and caffeic acid, the essence of glossy helichrysum has anti-inflammatory, balsamic, anti-allergic, anti-hepatotoxic, photoprotective, anti-erythema and antitussive properties. Helichrysum extracts can also be used for skin applications. In this case they are used to combat erythema, burns, psoriasis, chilblains and edema caused by poor circulation in the lower limbs. The extracts of paper flowers taken systemically have instead beneficial effects on dermatology, liver disease, allergies, acute and chronic bronchitis, asthma and emphysema. Of course, the beneficial properties of the plants are always the result of an ancient herbal tradition that more often than not has been transmitted over the centuries through simple oral communication. Before buying or taking helichrysum preparations, it is always advisable to consult an experienced doctor.


The glossy helichrysum o helichrysum bracteatum is particularly appreciated for flowers that do not wither. In the language of flowers, the plant is also called "evergreen" and "immortal". Therefore, giving helichrysum flowers means having the desire to be remembered forever. The long life of the helichrysum flowers also gave birth to a legend. It is said, in fact, that a young man, before going to war, left a bunch of helichrysum flowers to his beloved to be remembered. The flowers, out of compassion for the abandoned woman, decided not to wither anymore to allow her to remember her love forever. In other countries, however, helichrysum also has the meaning of exile.


It is a plant that loves heat and light, as we can already guess from the name that means "sun-colored yellow" and refers to the shape and color of bract scales. Some varieties are also commonly called "evergreen" or "immortal" because their flowers remain almost infinite in color and were widely used for making bouquets and pot-pourris.
They are tomentose and often fluffy, aromatic plants, suitable for the first rows of the borders and also for the rocky and Mediterranean garden.
The approximately 500 species include annuals, biennials, perennials, shrubs and small trees from Europe, Africa, Western Asia and Australia. The original habitat is a dry and open environment such as sandy stretches, dunes or the Mediterranean scrub.
Stems, lanuginosi or tomentosi have alternate or, rarely, opposite leaves that sometimes form a basal rosette. The foliage of the paper flower is mostly densely downy on the underside and in some species is extremely aromatic (the scent may resemble that of curry or liquorice). The flowers are usually in bunches, gathered in umbels, similar to daisies. There are no petals, but bratee around the flower can add color.
Four species are endemic to our country: the H. stoechas, the H. rock, the H. saxatile and H. italicum.


Almost all the varieties on the market are rather rustic. It can happen that due to the extreme cold the stems can dry out, but a good spring pruning will stimulate the vegetative restart and the plant will hardly suffer definitive damages. They can therefore be grown throughout Italy. In case of cold winters it is good to cover with fabric or mulch with leaves and straw.


They love dry soils. Irrigation is therefore not strictly necessary unless we live in a particularly hot area and rainfall is very scarce.
Certainly the water needs can be a little greater for plants grown in pots, perhaps on very sunny terraces or paved areas. However, we avoid exaggerating because the only real danger is rot. The use of the saucer is absolutely not recommended.


They grow in rather poor soils. If we want we can administer a slow release of granular fertilizer every three months. We avoid however to exaggerate because too much nourishment can paradoxically be the cause of scarce blooms in this type of plants.

Pot cultivation

Almost all species of paper flowers are well suited to container culture. The important thing is to supply a rather large vessel (as they widen at a certain speed) and a suitable substrate. The best one is formed by soil for flowering plants mixed with at least 30/40% of sand. It is also a great trick to add some pebbles to it. It is very important to create a thick draining layer on the bottom with gravel, expanded clay or shards. Repotting of the paper flower can be done every three years by increasing the size of the container or dividing the sample into several plants.


The best methods for obtaining new plants are division and cutting.
This must be done at the beginning of the summer by taking semi-woody stems (or an apical cuttings) and placing them in a very light mixture of sand and perlite, maintaining a temperature of 20 ° C and high environmental humidity. They root quite well even in the water. Usually they can be transferred to definitive jars about 2 months later by carrying out various toppings to induce good preparation.
The division is also very simple and takes place at the end of winter, before the vegetative restart.
The individual is extracted from the ground or container and the earth bread is divided into sections that have, at least, some roots and a stem. Put them in small jars to stimulate rooting, with light soil. They should be kept in a shaded area until they take root.

Varieties originating in our country

Helicrysum italicum perennial herbaceous ranging from 20 to 50 cm in height. It blooms with a good continuity from June to November, also depending on the latitude and climate. It is very commonly found among aromatic plants or rock garden plants.
Originally from the Mediterranean regions, it grows spontaneously in stony and dry places. It has leaves, persistent, linear-filiform, strongly revolute and with the upper tomentose page. The flower heads are light yellow collected in corymbs. At the end of the season it produces white cylindrical fruits.
Rather rustic, especially if kept in a sheltered area, it can be grown both in the ground or in a container. Very suitable for rocky or Mediterranean gardens because it has a pleasant appearance all year round and requires very little attention. It is very pleasant for its silver color, for its long flowering and for the strong scent it gives off, very similar to that of licorice.
It can therefore be counted among the aromatic plants: it contains a strongly perfumed substance called elicrisene which is used in perfumery, but also in pharmacology since it has a diaphoretic and expectorant action.
The leaves can find a culinary use to flavor soups, risottos and meats. The twigs can be dried in the shade and then used to perfume the cabinets and linen.
If we find the pleasant aroma it may be a good idea to cultivate it near a window or a door so that the summer heat, freeing the effluvium in the air, perfumes our home.

Helicrysum stoechas

It grows spontaneously in Liguria, in lower Piedmont, in Tuscany and in Lazio, in a rocky rocky environment. It has silvery linear and tomentose leaves on the lower side, green on the upper side. The flowers are globose, bright yellow corymbs. It reaches 30 cm in height and blooms from May to August.

Helicrysum rupestre

Originally from southern Italy and the islands, it grows on calcareous rocks near the coasts. It has a bushy habit, it can reach 35 cm in height and the leaves, lanceolate and up to 5 cm long, very tomentose, are however without perfume.

Helicrysum saxatile

Perennial herbaceous present throughout southern Europe and on the islands. It reaches 25 cm in height. The plant is covered with a white-yellow fluff, except on the leaves. The flowers, in June July, are yellow, in corymbs with a diameter of a few cm. The flowers, in June July, are yellow, in corymbs with a diameter of some cm.


Helicrysum Sulfur light
It is a cultivar with erect stems covered by white fluffy tomentum, with strictly green silvery lanceolate leaves, very decorative and with a strong curry aroma. The flowers, in compact groups of 10-15 cm, are of a beautiful sulfur yellow and then turn to orange. It reaches 40 cm in height.

Helichrysum thianschanicum

Beautiful bearing shape with erect stems 40 cm high, fluffy and with alternate leaves, lanceolate silver gray. At the apexes and on the lateral jets in summer it produces semispherical, papery flowers, about 1 cm wide. It also tolerates areas that are a little more shady. Also interesting are the Goldkind cultivars (dwarf and with golden flowers) and the Icicles, maximum 30 cm high.

Glossy helichrysum, paper flower - Helichrysum bracteatum: Helichrysum bracteatum

Also known as a paper flower or a blanket. Today botanists are no longer considered to be a helichrysum, but belonging to a different species and officially called xerochrysum. It is native to Australia and is an annual, very robust plant. It has a branched appearance with almost totally glabrous stems and entire, broad and oblong-lanceolate leaves. The flowers, apical, range from yellow to orange.
They can be sown on a plant in autumn, kept sheltered during the winter and then repotted with the arrival of spring. Alternatively you can also proceed in April-May, but the flowers will come later. In any case, they will blossom until October. They require very sunny exposure and few waterings. They adapt well to the vases and the rock garden.
They are also excellent long-lasting cut flowers.
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