Guard petals, what are they and why are they controversial?

Guard petals, what are they and why are they controversial?

Within the flower world there are a few competing theories for what is beauty, gosh, that could be the opening line for a very long philosophical debate to which there would be no one answer.  The truth is there is no one answer when it comes to guard petals either, but I wanted to share the Erica Berry Flowers position on the subject and to explain why.

Guard petals on a Sweet Avalanche Rose classically have a green or even redy pink tinge to them.

Firstly then, what is a guard petal? You many have noticed that the petals around the outside of your roses are sometimes slightly smaller and ruffled, often with tinges of different colours than the main rose itself, these are what we call ‘guard petals’.  Flowers have them for a reason, and as the name suggests it’s to guard the bud as the flower is developing and opening.  You can also see them clearly on other flowers such as Amaryllis and Nerines.

Guard petals seen clearly protecting the friable Amaryllis buds.

As the flowers open the guard petals shrivel.

The guard petals become barely visible.


Erica told me an anecdote of when she had Berries florist in Skipton (many moons ago…..sorry Erica!) and when they stocked Amaryllis before they became the popular flower we are so familiar with today.  Apparently, she delivered a bouquet to a regular customer, who on receiving the flowers actually got quite cross with Erica, claiming that they weren’t fresh and almost handing them back, but Erica was able to explain about the guard petals and that they were an integral part of the flower and why they are needed.

Amaryllis, in particular have quite obvious guard petals, those fine thin ‘extra’ petals that almost cup the group of flower heads on the thick stem.  As the buds develop and open into their magnificent flowers these guard petals shrivel up quickly to barely nothing and are hidden behind the blooms.  The same is the case with Nerines, but on a smaller scale as the whole flower is a more petite version of the big and showy Amaryllis.

We choose, on the whole, to leave the guard petals on our roses and definitely on the amayllis, as the buds are quite easy to knock and the guard petals hold them together.  With roses, these guardians protect the bud, and as with other flowers, as rose opens the guard petals become hidden from view.   Some people/florists are not fans of the look of the rose with the guard petals, claiming it makes them look ‘messy’ or that the colour variation detracts from the flower.  We prefer this look however for the majority of our work as it favours the more natural state of the flower and the gives it more interest both in it’s form and colour.  Of course, there are exceptions and when we’re working to create, for example, very formal designs for an elegant wedding, we may choose to remove them, as opposed to a more relaxed romantic country style, when they would more than likely be part of the design.

An ‘Atomic’ Rose with it’s guard petals creating interesting shapes and colour variations..


I went to a floristry demonstration earlier in the year and the florist who was making the displays, removed every guard petal from each flower, regardless of the design, and made a point of doing so.  After looking at what had been created, I concluded that I would have preferred some variation and a little more character within the displays and noted that, for me, what was missing was the guard petals.  The flowers had all been made a bit too regimented in their forms for me, and while still incredibly gorgeous, part of the beauty of this world is the magic of natures individuality, even within the same species, and I’m glad Erica’s one of the florists who also celebrates this view.

So there you are, that’s guard petals and why we like them.  If you ever receive flowers that you wonder about their form, please do ask us as we’re very happy to explain and point out their individual anatomy and why we have left them in their natural state for you.

An ‘Atomic’ Rose within an autumnal bouquet.