by syaffolee

Don’t Put Rose Petals in the Bath

Because some of those roses might be coated with pesticides that are illegal in the US.

I’ve never quite understood what flowers were all about, specifically the ones you would get from a florist. Maybe it’s because I never got flowers as a gift. And no, getting a carnation in a beer bottle doesn’t count because all the other girls in the dorm got the same thing. I haven’t given flowers as a gift to anyone either (just not my style, ya’ know?). I’ve only been a messenger or an observer watching other people get flowers.

My reasoning is: those flowers are all on death’s doorstep. It’s far less depressing spending an afternoon walking through a botanical garden (even if you’re by yourself); the plants, if not perfect, are at least still alive.

Amy Stewart‘s viewpoint in Flower Confidential is the opposite of mine in regards to this vegetable decoration. Even after her extensive research into the flower industry, she’s still excited about buying and receiving flowers. But hey, everyone’s entitled to their vices. So what if priviledged women living in industrial societies don’t give a damn about the ecological and economical consequences in third word countries as long as their hubbies give them their pretties on arbitrary holidays?*

But regardless my opinion on flowers themselves, I found Flower Confidential to be an intriguing look at the process from which flowers get from the field to the local supermarket. People don’t merely pick blossoms and ship them to the store anymore–everything is done clockwork as in a factory. Flower farmers these days control everything–from the nutrients, the temperature, the sunlight, even their genes**–so that their product will be produced in the exact shape, size, color, smell, and time. (Otherwise, how the heck can a beleagured man find two dozen perfect red roses for Valentine’s?***) The business of selling flowers is equally unsentimental–whole cargoes of the stuff can be auctioned off in minutes or even seconds without even a cursory glance by the buyer.

However, it was the more human side of the industry that really held my attention. Stewart recounts the story of the eccentric lily breeder Leslie Woodriff who never saw any profit from his creations, most notably the “Star Gazer” lily which is now a major staple in many florist shops. She shadows the owners of some major flower farms who are quite enthusiastic–abeit obsessively workaholic–about their products. She chats with a jaded flower auction coordinator who really doesn’t like flowers any more because her ex-husband always gave her free flowers. On the Central American flower farms, Stewart details the process in which the workers wear biohazard suits and respirators just so they can dip roses into vats of fungicide–that have been banned in the United States–so that the rose can be preserved in its perfection for American and European consumers.

I suppose flowers aren’t all doom and gloom though. Stewart does mention one company that develops environmentally friendly biopesticides (bring on those Bacillus subtilis isolates from Fresno peach tree orchards!) and the fact that several flower farms are voluntarily getting certified. But these things seem to be going by slowly, and by the end of the epilogue, I still could not quite understand the author’s enthusiasm.

*Do I really have to explain sarcasm?

**A (not so minor) nitpick: Genes are extracted from vacuoles (pg. 43)? Tell me this is a journalistic mistake and not what the scientist actually told the author.

***Well, there’s always the local craft store.