Flowers go hand-in-hand (literally) with almost any occasion. No matter the size of event or type of celebration, even a small arrangement of flowers instantly adds a softness, vibrancy, and sophistication to the atmosphere. But picking flowers can get pretty confusing. We try to keep up with trends, pick the type of flower that matches our occasion, and even end up hiring florists to help us create marvelous bouquets. Since many people today are becoming more conscious consumers, questions have risen about the origin of the flowers they are purchasing and the environmental impact of disposable, perishable fresh-cut flowers. Just as with any product we purchase, it is valuable to know that local, sustainable and seasonal options exist and are available even in large cities. Let’s explore some facts about the traditional flower industry as well as alternatives, so that choosing the most trending flower arrangement remains a joyous and guilt-free aspect of your event planning.

Have you ever stopped to wonder how fresh-cut flowers – a perishable product – arrive to the florist or any other place you may typically pick them up? In a pinch, I’m sure we’ve all dashed into a 24-hour gas station or grocery store, looking to pick up a last-minute bouquet. How did they get here, how long did it take, and how do they look so alive and healthy? Well, it turns out the fresh-cut flower industry is worth a whopping $100 billion worldwide. There are monumental forces out there, working day-in and day-out, to bring you those perfectly-wrapped roses available at the quick-stop.

Today, the Netherlands is the largest fower exporter, at 55% of global trade, followed by Colombia (18%), Ecuador (15%) and Kenya (15%). Not surprisingly, the industry for these major players is fueled by special occasions such as weddings, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. Canada’s export of flowers and nursery products (such as Christmas trees!) puts it at #10 in the global market, with exports being focused to bordering US states. Not so long ago, a local florist would have been able to sell you blooms grown on Canadian or US farms. The statistics above clearly point to the fact that most of the bouquets we buy or order here at home are grown, assembled and packaged overseas.

Companies preparing a perishable product for overseas shipment work within an extremely tight timeframe. They have it down to a science. Once cut, the battle against wilting begins. Stored and boxed in rooms at about 1 degree Celsius (almost freezing!), the plant’s normal processes (the need for food from light, carbon dioxide and water) are halted, making sure they are fine and dandy when they reach their overseas destination. To put this into perspective, Miami’s top importers receive 3,000 boxes/5 truckloads of Colombian flowers a day – this number triples during high season! Your bouquet has gone from field to plastic wrap in 48 hours, and an additional day or two to reach your florist or retailer.

The process described above sounds intense, doesn’t it? There are also thousands of people at work before picking occurs. These people are often faced with poor conditions, low pay, and are at risk of exposure to dangerous chemicals in fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides. Thankfully, within the last two decades, Colombia’s flower farms have started to respond to claims of harsh and unsafe working conditions. This was partially thanks to consumers overseas starting to ask questions and demand that flowers are ethically sourced in terms of human and environmental impact.

As a consumer, you should know that alternatives exist. Of course you may not be able to have a 100% locally sourced bouquet, but it’s not all doom. Attending farmers or flower markets is a fantastic way to meet local urban growers and ask them about their greenhouse, nursery or flower farm operation. Chances are if you book early enough, they can start growing the flowers you need – even for a large event. Asking your florist for local or ‘native’ plant varieties is also a way to spark interest in the topic. Asking questions and educating each other on alternatives is a great way to begin changing people’s minds and habits regarding fresh-cut flowers. Creating opportunities and demand for local flower varieties will help Canadian florists get back ‘to their roots’.