Valentine’s Day Roses – Grown Globally

Red and yellow roses in vases.
Red and yellow roses. Photo by Cindy Haynes. 

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and florists across the country are preparing for one of their busiest times of the year. In 2018, The Society of American Florists estimated that 250 million cut roses were produced for Valentine’s Day and an estimated 35% of Americans purchased flowers. While we might complain about their cost, many consumers never stop to think about the complex global production and distribution systems that allow for quality cut flowers to be sold in Iowa during the middle of winter.

Global Leaders in Cut Flower Exports

The Netherlands leads the world in cut flower exports with a 52% share of the global market.  Columbia (15%), Ecuador (9%), Kenya (7%) and Belgium (3%) round out the top five cut flower exporting countries. Most roses imported into the United States come from Columbia and Ecuador due to a favorable climate, inexpensive labor source and limited import regulations

Cut Flower Production

Roses in Columbia and Ecuador are grown in unheated hoop houses. There are approximately 20,000 and 11,000 acres under cover in Columbia and Ecuador, respectively. The long, warm days and cool nights along with fertile soils found in the Andes contribute to the superior quality of South American roses. Rose production there relies on large amounts of low cost hand labor to cultivate and harvest roses. In recent years, several producers have begun using sustainable, socially responsible, eco-friendly or certified organic production practices in an effort to distinguish their product on the market and command a premium price.

A man inspecting roses being readied for auction.
Roses are graded for quality and stem length, packaged and prepared for shipping. Photo by Cindy Haynes. 

The Netherlands takes a different approach to rose production using technologically advanced controlled environments and automation. Laborers cut flowers and place them on a hooked conveyer belt. From there roses are graded by electronic eyes, and sorted and processed by machines, with minimal human labor.

Shipping and Distribution

Cut flowers entering the U.S. from South American typically arrive in Miami, Florida. During the peak season between Jan. 1 and Feb. 14, nearly one billion floral stems will travel through the Miami International Airport, with over 30 cargo planes arriving daily. There, cut flowers are inspected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection for insect pests and diseases. They are then transported to wholesalers, re-wholesalers and retailers using refrigerated transportation to maintain their quality and shelf life. The supply chain for distributing roses allows cut roses to travel from farms in Ecuador and Colombia to Eastern U.S. markets in less time than roses grown in California.

In the Netherlands, flowers arrive from growers in the Netherlands, Ecuador, Columbia, Ethiopia and Kenya to the Aalsmeer Flower Auction, the largest building by footprint in the world. Flowers are sorted into lots and loaded onto carts that follow a track system through the auction house, onto the bidding floor, and straight to the cargo terminal of Schiphol Airport.  The auction house uses the Dutch Auction system where lots start at a high price; as the auction clock counts down the price reduces and the first person to push their button wins the lot.

Keeping Flowers Fresh at Home

yellow and red roses all lined up getting ready to be auctioned.
Bicolor roses packaged for shipping to wholesales. Photo by Kevin Duerfeldt. 

Once these flowers arrive in your home, there are several things that you can do to prolong their vase life. Begin with a clean vase. Wash previously used containers with hot, soapy water to remove debris and destroy bacteria and fungi that may shorten the life of cut flowers. Remove all foliage that will be below the water line in the vase.  Submerged plant foliage may decay and shorten the life of the flowers. To promote water uptake, cut off the bottom ½ to 1 inch of the stems with a sharp knife. Immediately place the cut flowers in a vase full of water. Add a commercial floral preservative to the water to prolong the life of the flowers.  (A small packet of floral preservative comes with most cut flowers. Simply follow directions on the packet). Place the cut flowers in a cool, brightly lit location in the home or office. Keep the flowers away from heat sources and drafts. Check the water level daily and add water when necessary. Completely change the water if it becomes cloudy or begins to produce a discernible odor. 

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Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Horticulture and Home Pest News, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on February 10, 2020. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.