26 February 2018
North American flower and plant sales differ from elsewhere. The continent is a melting pot, mainly of various European cultures. Ornamental plants have become very popular in Europe and India but this isn’t true of the US or Canada. Why?
History might explain why. On the one hand, America is strongly influenced by the Pilgrim Fathers, English Protestants from a strict sect. In 1621, after having lived in Holland for twelve years, they moved to Massachusetts. They didn’t want worldly pleasures to keep them away from God and religion. Ornamental plants were considered worldly.
On the other hand rich Americans spend lots of money on flowers for special occasions
History also explains why American horticulture is relatively small. European cities have existed since the early Middle Ages, being surrounded by farms and nurseries providing food (and flowers and plants since circa 1900) for city dwellers. Until the 1870s, America had few large cities so nurseries didn’t develop like their European counterparts. Later transport systems enabled citizens to get their food and flowers from distant places. So local American production lacked development.
Currently 75% of all US cut flowers are produced in California (and tulips in Oregon) but the vast majority of US flowers are purchased from South America. The Dutch have only a minor share, mainly in niche products although they still have a good name, being considered the cradle of floristry.
Colombia exports its flowers to the US with zero tariff. Colombian growers developed their own logistic and administrative facilities in Miami. Phyto sanitarian facilities are available there 24/7. Transport facilities (truck transport) are there in abundance. Most Americans live in the eastern part of the continent (east of the Mississippi) within a reasonable distance from Miami.
Africa could be a tough competitor to Colombia and other Latin American producers, but they are subject to custom tariffs and lack a strong foothold in populous American regions.
Americans mainly use flowers for special occasions but are increasingly buying them for use at home. This development was brought about due to supermarkets. While America has florists of various skill levels, large cities like New York, Boston, Chicago or LA offer the best of the best. In the middle of nowhere, flowers may only be available in supermarkets and floristry may not be that good.
Most home and garden plants are American grown because it is illegal to import plants with soil. Therefore it’s impossible to import plants to the US at all. This is likely the reason why 46% of US ornamental consumption consists of garden and bedding plants, 20% of houseplants and only 34% of cut flowers.
The American ornamental market is changing and developing like all markets do, in good part thanks to the internet. But culture, customs and connections have created a particular market that will differ from others in the future.