KC Gardens

Flowers for Valentines Day -- How does that happen in winter?

Tip of the Week

Dr. Cheryl Boyer, assistant professor of nursery crops at Kansas State University, has penned another perfect article that I think is worth sharing. The following is her take on how Valentine’s Day flowers end up on your office desk or kitchen table. Enjoy - Dennis

Have you ever wondered how exactly it is that there are plenty of flowers for everyone on Valentine’s Day? I mean, it’s not like there are cut flower growers (producing hundreds of different types of flowers) in every city and town. How is it that you get a fresh bouquet of roses or tulips (in the off season) by just popping into your local floral shop or grocery store?

It’s a huge international effort, that’s how. Many of the out of season and exotic cut flowers sold in the U.S. are grown in Columbia, Ecuador, the Netherlands, Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Thailand. Other leaders in worldwide cut flower exports include Israel and Italy. These producers have highly sophisticated, automated greenhouse systems and teams of people to manage everything from pest control to plant selection and harvest. It’s fascinating. Growing plants is certainly an art and a science.

Growing the plants/flowers can be pretty complicated, but selling the flowers can be mind-boggling. After the flowers are packed and prepared for shipping (held in water, cool, almost freezing temperature in the trucks), they are delivered to a “market”. This is not just any market; this is the equivalent to the New York Stock Exchange for flowers, an auction house located in the Netherlands (the largest distributor of cut flowers in the world). In this huge auction house Aalsmeer Auction in Holland is the fourth largest building in the world at 10.6 million square feet (243 acres), the racks of flowers (20 million are sold daily) are paraded very quickly in front of buyers while detailed data and pictures of the freshly harvested product are flashed on screens above. Buyers are seated in theater seating (with tables for their laptops, so it’s also a bit like a college classroom except that you can have food delivered to you like at a ball game) and bid quickly (less than 60 seconds) in order to get the best price for their customers. The price starts high, but if they wait too long, they might not be able to get the flowers their customers need.

As soon as the flowers are run through the auction room, they are transferred to a shipping area to be delivered across the world. In fact, Aalsmeer Auction is located adjacent to a major airport so that flowers can go directly to their final destinations. Once flowers are in the air, if they are coming to your town they will probably be delivered to a broker in Chicago or Miami who then sells them to wholesalers who break up the racks and prepare smaller lots to send to your local florist. All of this happens within two to six days of being plucked from a plant (most often 48 hours).

While most plants get delivered to your kitchen countertop this way, there are certainly domestic cut flower growers who provide an equally good product and require less shipping. California, Florida, Hawaii and Colorado have the largest cut flower production areas in the U.S. You’ll also find local folks who grow a small number of delicate or regional specialty cut flowers. To find one near you, use the search tool at the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers website (www.ascfg.org). The Great Plains has its own special offerings for floral designs and you may just find a prairie plant flower or seed head in your next bouquet.

So, to answer the original question: How can there be enough flowers for everyone on Valentine’s Day? Just remember, while it may be winter here, it is summer south of the equator. Seasonality can disrupt some international crops, but it usually only affects price, not supply, as growers simply increase production somewhere else in the world. In fact, the increase in production around Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day is generally only about 15 percent. So this year as you’re admiring the beautiful flowers from your sweetie, take a minute to think about the long (but quick) journey they took to be in your hands. And keep an eye out for local flowers, too.

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