Book: Flower Confidential: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful in the Business of Flowers
Author: Amy Stewart
They’re given on a first date, carried by a bride on her big day, and used as peace offerings around the globe; no matter the definition, we’re talking about flowers.
Now, if reading a book about the history and anatomy of flowers doesn’t sound fascinating, you would be having the same reaction as I did when I first picked up this book. However, once Amy Stewart gets to talking about the flower industry and the personal stories behind these plants, it became obvious that there is much more to flowers than meets the eye.
Stewart starts her book in the San Francisco Flower Mart, one large gathering place for flower vendors. Here, she discovers that the origins of the flower trade began long ago in Ancient Egypt and grew steadily through the Roman times.
Today, Americans buy about 4 million flowers a year. Stewart says that we buy more flowers than Big Macs, which in 2007 when this was published, was probably true, although I’m not so sure about that today. In retrospect, it is not so surprising that we go through this many flowers each year. We have holidays specifically created around them like Valentine’s Day for roses and Easter for lilies. However, it is the back story behind these plants that is the interesting part.
Stewart explains that one hundred years ago, nearly all the cut flowers sold in the U.S. were also grown here; now close to three-fourths of our flowers are imports. If this doesn’t seem like a big deal, let me explain. This global shift in the flower trade has caused the flowers themselves to adapt. Growers now have to breed them for sustainability and strength so that they can fly from Latin America or Europe and not die in the air. To change the flowers internal make-up, flower breeders must sacrifice some external features such as delicacy and fragrance. While this might seem like a loss to some, this industry has survived because today, flowers are judged on beauty rather than smell.
Another change that has swept through this industry is how the flowers are grown. If you look back five or six decades, flowers had been grown in fields by farmers. To these people, their flowers were like children; they nurtured them and gave them the best care and attention they could. When they were in bloom and ready for harvest, they would cut them and send them off. However, people buying flowers today have gotten impatient. No one wants to wait until April for tulips or August for sunflowers.
To keep up with the demand, farmers had to move their flowers into greenhouses in order to control the blooms. With this move came a more technological process for growing flowers. The farmers no longer gave each plant the individual attention and care as they once did. This shift in the growing of flowers is due to how fast technology is evolving and how heavily we as society rely on it.
I chose to review Flower Confidential because no one thinks of cut flowers as an industry or a money maker. I think that this book sheds some light onto the business and the background of where it started.