If you know anyone in the floral industry, you know that they are quite busy for a few weeks ahead of major flower-gifting holidays (like the upcoming Mother’s Day). But the business of flowers and how they end up on your mother’s dining room table goes much further than just your local florist. In fact, your beautiful bouquet might not even be from the same country as you – and in all likelihood, they probably traveled great lengths to brighten up your mom’s day. Before going into all the details, check out this infographic we created for this very special topic.
Transporting and distributing flowers is not a simple job. Specific temperatures must be maintained, otherwise those pretty flowers will bloom and wilt before mom even gets a chance to see her bouquet. Around 80% of Mother’s Day flowers come from Latin America – that means they travel a very long way but still stay nice and fresh. Luckily, refrigeration can keep flowers from spoiling on their journey. After flowers are cut (by hand, in most cases) they are cooled to keep them from blooming. The flowers enter their first refrigerated truck to the country of origin’s airport, and they’ll stay refrigerated on the plane, in ground transit, and in warehouses until they are taken home by a customer. Because flowers stay so cold for most of their trip (they are only unrefrigerated while being unloaded from their international cargo flight), they will last for quite a while before they bloom and die while on display at home. You can thank cold chain logistics for that perfect rose, as well as for many other perishable goods that need to be kept at peak freshness in order for you to enjoy.
The United States receives a large portion of its holiday flowers from three countries: Mexico, Colombia, and Ecuador. The floral industry provides a stage for low income countries to participate in international agricultural trade, and employs thousands of people from laborers who tend fields and cut flowers, to employees of shipping companies that move the perishable goods internationally. Recent advances in refrigeration, plant breeding, telecommunications, and logistics have been a boon to flower growing countries that wish to trade with far flung locations across the entire globe.
It is estimated that 75% of America’s flowers are grown in Colombia, and in 2013 the US imported $1.09 billion worth of Colombian flowers. About a week before one of the big floral holidays (Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day), 500 million flowers are cut and shipped from Colombia to the US. Cut flowers are transported in boxes of as many as 250 blooms to keep them fresh, and shipping companies must add flights in order to make sure all the flowers reach the States. Once the boxes of flowers make it to Miami, the floral hub for the US (90% of the world’s imported flowers arrive here during flower-gifting seasons), they are checked by customs and then reorganized in smaller amounts and distributed throughout the country by wholesalers. Colombia makes an estimated $250 million from flower sales each year, but the world’s ongoing battle with climbing temperatures could put that industry at risk – especially as Colombia is already experiencing drought.
Ecuador is another Latin American powerhouse for floral production – Ecuador’s floral industry employs 60,000 people, half of them women. An impressive 660 million Ecuadorian flowers were shipped to the US in 2015. Ecuador is one of the few countries in the region that grow organic and free trade flowers for the United States. These flowers go through the same process as Colombian product: harvesting by hand, being loaded onto an international refrigerated cargo flight, passing customs, and sitting in cold storage in Miami before being loaded onto another refrigerated truck destined for some American city, and finally into the hands of a lucky mom whose kids actually remember her favorite flower on Mother’s Day.
The journey of the blooms from the farm to the importers takes from 24-48 hours - pretty fast compared to any typical importing process of other types of goods. If you ordered some flowers for your mom for Mother’s Day this year, share with her this story, only if she knows anything about how far that little bouquet has actually traveled, and the work it took to get it to her, she’ll be even more impressed by the gesture. <3