Artisans have been producing silk flowers since the 14th century, when Marco Polo brought silk back to Italy from the Orient. While craftsmanship, techniques and materials developed through the centuries--today, "silk" is a catch-all term for fabric flowers that are frequently made of cotton-polymer blends--the low maintenance and lasting beauty of non-perishable flowers continues to make them a valued design element.
Because of the difficulty in forcing orchids to bloom as well as the fragility of the orchid blossom, not to mention the relatively simple shape of their flowers, orchids have long been a favorite for silk craftsmen to reproduce. While craftsmanship and size influences silk orchids' price, they're usually one of the most reasonably priced artificial centerpieces on the market.
Perfect roses have been prized through the centuries, but growing spectacular rose blossoms is never easy, with the type of soil, amount and type of light it receives and irrigation habits all greatly affecting the size of a natural rose blossom. Cut roses, particularly low-quality ones, also have a tendency to wither quickly and begin dropping petals shortly after clipping. Silk roses match the centuries-old appreciation of the rose with a quality and permanence that makes them within reach of any designer.
Ficus trees are well suited to indoor cultivation, but only under the right circumstances. Organic ficus are especially susceptible to drafts and improper lighting conditions, making it difficult for some amateur gardeners to cultivate them indoors. Silk leaves affixed to ficus branches solve the fragility problem, and provide an especially lifelike replica of an organic tree. Silk ficus trees are among the most frequently purchased nonfloral silk plants.
Another favorite of botanists and flower arrangers, lilies are not difficult plants to cultivate indoors, although most indoor plants are rarely in bloom, and blooms don't last longer than a couple weeks. Silk lily blooms provide the simple elegance of a blossom with a year-round availability the vegetable version cannot provide.
Requiring a specific light balance and constant rotation, ferns in hanging baskets may quickly deteriorate if their cultivator forgets to tend to them. The large, segmented and bushy leaves of a fern make silk reproductions particularly lifelike, and designers duplicate favorites such as Boston ferns and staghorn ferns with realism.