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Where Valentine's Day Flowers Are Grown, And How To Find Sustainable Blooms

Americans will spend about $2 billion buying flowers for Valentine’s Day, according to the National Retail Federation. Most of those flowers are grown far away and shipped a long distance before they end up in a vase.

Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson talks with  Amy Stewart ( @Amy_Stewart), author of the book “ Flower Confidential,” about where those flowers are grown and how sustainable the flower industry is.

Interview Highlights

On where flowers bought in the U.S. come from

“They’re mostly coming from Latin America. About 80 percent of the flowers we buy in the United States come from somewhere else, and it’s almost all Colombia and Ecuador, with a little bit of a growing percentage coming from Mexico as well.”

On how flowers are kept fresh after being shipped

“That was the thing that was so surprising to me. I had always thought of flowers as needing to be in water 24 hours a day or they die. But it turns out that transporting flowers is a lot like transporting a head of lettuce — it needs to be kept cold, temperature’s a much bigger deal than keeping them in water — and shippers can even do some things to sort of regulate the oxygen-CO2 mix and to regulate the humidity to keep them fresh. And flowers these days are bred for longevity, so they might spend a week getting from the farm to the flower shop before you even take them home, and then they want them to have a week of life in the vase after you’ve brought them home.”

On the flower industry’s carbon footprint

“…The refrigeration issue is the biggest one that the flower industry is dealing with in terms of carbon footprint. You’re starting to see more truck stops where people can plug in at night, so they’re not running a generator while the trucker sleeps or takes a break. It’s a big issue.”

On why more flowers aren’t grown in the U.S.

“All over the world, we’ve seen flower production move to the equator — in part because the year-round climate makes it less risky to grow a crop like flowers, labor costs are cheaper, environmental regulations may be fewer. And in the 1980s, the Reagan administration lifted import tariffs on cut flowers, in part to try to push industries in Colombia outside of the drug trade, so the thought was, ‘Maybe they’ll grow flowers instead of cocaine.’ So the legacy of that is that floral production moved south of the border, and we’ve seen less of it here. But you know, even for a holiday like Valentine’s Day, I think kind of the new push for American-grown flowers is, ‘Maybe we can change our aesthetics a bit, maybe we don’t need roses in February, maybe we can do tulips or something that’s a little bit more seasonal instead.'”

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