It’s not every day you visit a city and wind up in a tropical forest. But that’s exactly the case if you happen to be walking along a stretch of New York City’s West 28th Street in Manhattan. There, amidst the hustle and bustle of big city life, a vibrant community of plant wholesalers and retailers set up shop each morning, transforming the busy sidewalks into a bona fide urban jungle. Continue reading →
This winter, I’ve been passing the time rereading a few French classics. It’s been a great way to while away the hours, especially since many of the books focus on life in the garden. Such is the case with Honoré de Balzac’s 1835 novel, Le Lys dans la Vallée (The Lily of the Valley). It’s a great story of French love and society and how a pair of frustrated lovers establish a secret correspondence by flowers. Continue reading →
I grow roses in my garden and would never think of cutting one before its prime. However, when it comes to buying roses locally, I choose blooms that are still tight in the bud. Why the disconnect? It’s mainly habit, I suppose, and the fact that we Americans are only beginning to discover the perks of Russian-cut roses.
Russian-cut roses are not actually grown in Russia
Russian-cut roses are a common cut in Europe, but contrary to what their name implies, they are not grown in Russia. Rather, the term refers to roses that were harvested at the peak of their development; a time when their petals are more mature as opposed to the more common practice of cutting them when their buds are still tight. This makes for a rose with larger, more open blooms, longer stems and improved performance.
Why are they called Russian?
The term Russian-cut comes from the Russian tradition of giving a single, spectacular bloom as a token of appreciation. As an old Russian saying* goes,
“A saying is a flower, a proverb is a berry.”
Angelica Privalihin “My Red Rose”
Of course this differs substantially from the American tradition of giving one dozen roses. (By the way, in Russia giving a bouquet of flowers in even numbers is considered very bad luck and a major faux-pas.)
Why this method works
Evidence shows that roses that are left longer on the stem develop brighter colors and larger, more spectacular blooms than roses harvested in the tight-bud stage. This takes some patience to achieve. Growers must wait one to two weeks longer than normal before harvesting their Russian-cut roses. Doing this enables them to reap big rewards: the blooms typically average 50 % larger, and they last just as long or even longer than traditional, tight-cut flowers.
Why is this so? Because extending the growth period allows the flowers to absorb more nutrients that in turn allows them to continue to grow and develop. Longer nutrition and exposure to sunlight provides more sugars to the stems and leaves of the plant. The rose then uses this extra energy to produce bigger blossoms.
Nowadays these spectacular roses, which can feature 3 foot stems and blooms measuring 3.5 to 4 inches across, are mostly grown high in the Andes in Ecuador and Colombia.
Rose harvest in Ecuador
Of course it costs growers more to wait the extra week and then package and ship larger flowers. There’s a premium for these larger blooms. But if you’re looking to make a big impact, you can’t do better.
So far, in the United States where Russian-cut roses are also known as European or Designer-cut, buyers are not entirely convinced, still holding on to the belief that normal, tight cut roses will last longer in the vase. They’re not entirely willing to pay the higher price for Russian cut roses, either. I’m guessing the exception to the rule is weddings, where a big impact is usually the goal. Perhaps we should begin applying that thinking to our everyday flower purchases.
*Mertvago, P. (1996). The comparative russian-english dictionary of russian proverbs & sayings. New York, NY: Hippocrene Books.
Flower staging at Aalsmeer FloraHolland in Amsterdam
Today is Valentines Day, the annual festival of romantic love when many of us will be sending flowers. And even though we’ll be buying them locally, most of the blooms will have only just arrived from overseas. Ever wonder how flowers cut fresh in Europe, Africa and Israel can wind up for sale in America the very next day? The answer lies in the wonders of the Dutch Flower Auction.
A platform built for speed
Over the past century, the Dutch have perfected a trading platform that can rapidly move millions of cut flowers around the world, making what until recently seemed impossible – delivery to North America within 24-hours from overseas.
How have they done this? By creating hi-velocity supply chains to accommodate flowers’ perishability and by establishing central distribution points for trade. In other words, the Dutch flower auction eliminates the middleman so buyers and sellers can deal with each other directly.
The story begins with the arrival each day of millions of flowers to FloraHolland, a superpower in the floricultural world. The company runs six auction houses throughout the Netherlands and accounts for 90 percent of the Dutch floral trade. According to the latest statistics, in 2015 the Netherlands ranked first in the world in total flower bouquet exports by country, accounting for roughly 40 % of total flower bouquet exports worldwide.
With daily sales of well over 20 million plants and flowers, FloraHolland’s auction houses together comprise the largest flower auction in the world. In addition to the Netherlands (which is itself a major producer of cut flowers), more than 10 countries, including Europe, Ecuador, Colombia, Israel, Ethiopia and Kenya all use the Dutch auction as a gateway for distribution.
How the Dutch Flower Auction works
When your business is moving millions of cut flowers daily, keeping the product fresh is the primary concern. To meet the challenge, the Dutch have created lightening-fast logistics. The whole process begins with a collaborative effort undertaken by Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, ground shipping companies and the Dutch government.
Workers loading trolleys at Aalsmeer Auction House
Nicknamed Hub Ways, the approach works to improve traffic flow both to and from the airport and between the six FloraHolland auction sites. And it’s serious business. At times, Hub Ways has even gone so far as to widen rural roads to facilitate the flowers’ distribution.
To be sure, the largest and most famous of the six auction houses is the Aalsmeer Flower Auction. Often referred to as ‘the New York Stock Exchange for Flowers’ it occupies a massive building measuring an astonishing 10.6 million square feet (243 acres, or roughly two football fields). It is the largest flower trade center in the world.
Photo credit: www.hollandfoto.net / Shutterstock, Inc.
On a busy day, the Aalsmeer Flower Auction Hall sells millions of cut flowers to around 2,800 wholesalers and exporters. The buyers arrive at 6 am (midnight EDT) in the morning to bid.
Racing against the clock
While the supply chain ensures the flowers arrive quickly, the Dutch Auction Method speeds the transactions at the points of sale. To accommodate their products’ perishability, Dutch flower auctions run on a system that is the flip side of traditional auctions (in which bidders push prices up from below.) Also known as clock auctions, the unusual format is designed to ensure the highest transaction speed.
FloraHolland auction room, FloraHolland.com
However, these days there is no longer an actual clock. Instead, the auctioneer operates a digital circle. Buyers connect to the clock of their choice by means of a headset. Then they submit their bids electronically.
Dutch auction clock/ Click here to see how it works
Each auction begins with the auctioneer setting a high price on the ‘clock.’ Next, the price is rapidly lowered by increments as indicated by a moving red dot on the circle. The first buyer to press the button and stop the clock is the highest bidder. Generally, the whole process takes around five seconds.
Flowers ready for auction
Adrienne Lansbergen, spokeswoman for Bloemenveiling Aalsmeeran, describes the process this way:
“It is really stressful. If you wait too long, as the flowers are passing by, they may be bought by your competitor. If you push the button too quickly, you may pay too high a price.”
Clearly, speed is the king of the auction.
Once the transactions are made, the flowers are electronically labeled and placed in buckets. Next they’re sped away on electric carts to the distribution center. Upon arrival, employees in mini electric trucks pull the buckets and redistribute them to new trolleys. Then the flowers proceed onwards to their new owners’ processing areas.
Flowers heading to the distribution hall at Aalsmeer
Depending on the species and where they are going, the flowers receive different packaging to keep them fresh as they travel. This may include insulated cardboard boxes, ice packs to provide cooling, and/or flower mats, which absorb humidity and prevent mildew growth. Finally, the flowers are sped by truck back to Schiphol Airport, where they are loaded back onto planes for delivery overnight.
FloraHolland estimates that around Valentines Day, they trade over 300 million flowers. Of these, roses, tulips and chrysanthemums are the three top selling blooms. Nowadays, most of the roses come from Kenya. Such a long race to get here — something to think about when arranging your Valentine’s Day blooms in the vase this year.