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Where do florists' roses come from?


All weekend long I’ve been seeing roses everywhere, at Comstock, at Voss, in the window of every local florist. Today, I even saw roses being sold out in front of a taco shop. Where does everybody get all of these roses? It’s not like you can dust them off and bring them out every February. — Flower Power, Imperial

We never dreamed this would be such a difficult question to answer and, really, to find solid, reliable information. We still couldn’t come up with definitive numbers. The closest we could get are “hundreds of thousands of bouquets are sold every Valentine’s Day” blah blah blah.

We did finally track down a rose expert from the University of California Cooperative Extension in Kern County, adviser John Karlik. But he works with the industry that grows roses for ornamentals and the planting industry, not the cut flowers/greenhouse industry, which supplies the florists and grocery stores of this country.

Karlik, however, was better than nothing.

He told us the vast majority of cut roses being sold in this country today are coming from South America, specifically Colombia and Ecuador, whereas the bulk of the roses sold in Europe come from Africa, specifically Kenya.

In both cases, production has left the more northern continents for high-altitude, tropical regions, where there are high light intensities and cooler temperatures, and of course, cheaper labor, Karlik said.

In the United States, for example, cut roses can be air-freighted from Colombia, land in Miami and be disbursed throughout the continental U.S. in a matter of hours, all staying relatively fresh, he said.

Keeping the roses fresh is a tall order in itself, and that, it seems, is where Karlik’s expertise comes in.

He said there has been much study on how to ship roses and keep from what we call wilting, but what he referred to as synthases, or aging, of the petals. Roses are very sensitive to the introduction of ethylene, and that problem is worsened unless the roses are kept cool.  

Karlik said that is the difference between roses bought in a flower shop and those purchased at grocery stores. The ones in a florist shop are in a more controlled climate, whereas the roses in a grocery store are subject to quantities of ethylene being released by fruit such as bananas and apples. Because roses are affected on the parts-per-million scale, they degrade quickly in a grocery store.

He said that’s why anyone who works in a florist shop will tell you the proprietors are careful not to let anyone put anything in the cooled cases that contains ethylene, such as fruit from a lunch.

He even gave us a surefire way to maintain your cut roses. First, he said the rose food that usually comes with the bouquet has an ethylene inhibitor.

Most important, though, he said when prepping your roses for the vase at home, cut the stems underneath hot water and plunge them into cold water. But hurry! He said the stems will begin to callus, or close up, almost immediately and stop the uptake of water.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

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