Are you getting flowers for your mom on Mother’s Day? Do you normally pick up a dozen roses for your sweetie (and pay double the price) on Valentine’s Day? Next time you do and you’re grumbling about the price, take solace in the fact that those flowers went through a lot to get to the recipient. Those pretty flowers were probably growing in the soil of Ecuador or Colombia just a few days ago.
The #1 flower producer in the world is not in South America. That would be the land of tulips in Holland. The #2 and #3 producers are in the Americas though. Ecuador has around 9% of the world market in flower sales, with a huge swath of land in the interior dedicated to the production of flowers. They are the top producer of roses and have a reputation of growing the finest ones. All that good volcanic soil probably doesn’t hurt, though you can be sure the greenhouse-grown beauties are far from organic.
There’s a bit in the Quito and the High Valley story we have on our site about a rose plantation I visited near Otavalo. There I saw the process in action, people working against the clock in the short window they have between cutting and shipping.
Basically, the process works like this. The flowers grow until they are exactly the right shape, the workers moving through the rows each day cutting just those particular ones. They move on a cart to the cleaning area, where some of the excess leaves are stripped and they are cut to a uniform length. Then the flowers moved to a refrigerated packing room where like colors are sorted and packed together.
They go into an even colder refrigerated room and are packed into boxes. The packed roses go onto a refrigerated truck where they make the journey to Quito’s airport.
Each night thousands of boxes of roses leave the Quito airport and fly to the U.S., Russia, and Europe. On the other end they are loaded onto more refrigerated trucks to go to distribution centers. After that, they finally get to your local florist then onto a dining room table or cubicle desk.
All this has to happen within a few days so they don’t start wilting. You can’t ship roses by ship except for local use: they have to be flown to where they’re going.
So what are you paying for when you lay out the cash for those flowers? A little for the flowers themselves, but mostly for a lot of coordinated shipping.
Want some chocolates instead? Ecuador won’t mind. They ship out plenty of cocoa as well.
The #2 producer of flowers overall in the world is a bit further north: Colombia. They have some 15% of the global market for flowers and the USA is the largest customer. We actually pushed them in that direction while trying to wean farmers off growing coca leaves that were processed into drugs. Colombia doesn’t grow as many roses as Ecuador, but there’s a good chance some of the other flowers in a big bouquet are from there.