Flower sellers in the United States rushed to meet the demand for roses and other varieties that are given as gifts on the Valentine's Day holiday. Most of those flowers come from Latin America, where growing conditions are ideal in February. From Miami, VOA's Brian Wagner has this report.
There is a special scent in the air at Miami International Airport. It is the fragrance of roses, carnations and other flowers arriving from Latin America for the Valentine's Day holiday. With much of the country gripped by the cold of winter, florists in the United States look to farmers south of the border to the meet intense demand ahead of the February 14th holiday.
For the shipping operations of FedEx in Miami, it is the busiest time of year. FedEx and other shipping companies must move quickly and carefully, to ensure the flowers survive their journey. Michael Connor is senior manager of the FedEx operation at the Miami airport.
"One of the most critical things about speed to market from a flower grower's standpoint, is to get them from the cutting table to the customer as quickly as possible. What we do here in Miami is we have a cooler that we maintain between 38 and 40 degrees (about four degrees celsius) so we can help those shippers maintain the life of those flowers.
Boxes arrive in Miami from Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, as well Holland, and then travel by plane or by refrigerated truck to the rest of the United States. Connor says at least 60 percent of the flowers imported into the United States move through Miami.
The tradition of Saint Valentine's Day goes back centuries and involves lovers exchanging gifts, such as flowers, chocolates or notes. This year, the National Retail Federation says Americans will spend on average about $120 for the holiday.
For florists, such as one near downtown Miami, it is a very busy time of year. Owner Emil Ciuraru says dealing with such delicate objects can be a risky business. "Colombia had like four or five days of bad weather. Let's say 80 percent of the product gone. So that makes the market very tight."
Ciuraru says he has already spent $60,000 of his own money on his holiday supply, hoping it will all sell. And with 16 years in the business, he is confident he will make a profit.
Of course, buying flowers during the U.S. winter is more expensive than at other times of the year, partly because of shipping costs. But that does not mean that customers should not get their money's worth, says Monica Ullrich, marketing director of Esmeralda Farms.
"Customers typically have very low expectations. Once they bring home the flowers, they're looking more for the 'wow' effect, for the gift effect, but they typically don't last for more than four or five days," she says.
Ullrich says Esmeralda has worked to breed varieties of flowers that will last up to two weeks in a vase. And she says the quality of the company's flowers results from investments in environmental and working conditions on their farms in Latin America.
"It results in a top quality product as well. If people are happier about their job and what they're doing and the environment they're working in, that's going to show in the end result."
Many U.S. customers may not ask about the origin of the flowers they buy for loved ones on Valentine's Day. But the farmers and florists who market them hope that customers know just how much of their love and hard work goes into Valentine's Day.