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Valentine's Day flowers undergo inspection before making it into arrangements

By BY ALLISON MILES - AMILES@VICAD.COM
Feb. 12, 2013 at midnight
Updated Feb. 11, 2013 at 8:12 p.m.

Roses sit inside a cooler at The Foliage Shoppe Inc. on Monday as staffers prepare for the Valentine's Day rush. Crossroads florists say they inspect flowers carefully for quality issues before creating arrangements.

Did you know?

• Between Jan. 1 and Feb. 14, 2012, customs agents processed 842.2 million cut flower stems.

• Most 2012 cut flower shipments came from South America, with 67 percent coming from Colombia and 23 percent from Ecuador.

• The most common types of insects intercepted during imports are mites, aphids, miner flies and moths.

Source: U.S. Department of Homeland Security news release

Millions of cut flowers make their way to the United States each Valentine's Day season, going from grower to wholesaler and, eventually, to floral shops. Before they make their debuts in seasonal arrangements, however, the plants undergo close inspection.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection specialists inspect imports each year, searching for pests and diseases that could harm the nation's flower industry, according to a U.S. Department of Homeland Security news release.

Specialists processed 842.2 million cut flower stems between Jan. 1 and Feb. 14, 2012, according to the release, keeping an eye out for issues such as chrysanthemum white rust, the Emerald ash borer, the Asian longhorned beetle and more.

Such evaluations are important, Kevin Harriger, executive director for the customs office's Agriculture Programs Trade and Liaison office, said in the release, noting that a single pest can cause millions of dollars in crop damage.

Inspections don't end at the governmental level, however. Crossroads florists said they search for other potential issues.

Clay Atchison III, an owner with McAdams Floral, said flowers are typically examined and in healthy condition by the time they reach floral shops. With the exception of fungus or similar growths appearing from time to time, florists typically just need to prepare them for the big day.

Most flowers come from Colombia or Ecuador, he said, noting that once they're cut, growers place them in a solution and then into a cooler. From there, they typically fly to Miami, where they find a temporary home in an even larger cooler before continuing their journey.

"When we get them, we go ahead and process them by recutting them and putting them in our special solution," he said, noting the mix is a blend of a sugar element and antibacterial agent. "We're typically using the flowers either that day or the next one."

Laura Hall, business manager and designer with Victoria's Devereux Gardens, said the shop has never experienced pest issues during the long relationship with its wholesaler. The shop eliminates some of that risk, however, by growing most of what it sells at the Devereux nursery.

Holly Weber, store manager with Expressions Floral and Gifts, said the staff looks out for mildew or poor development.

Sometimes growers who have experienced natural disasters such as flooding will attempt to salvage crops due to cost, she explained. When that happens, the shop might notice deficiencies and will contact the wholesaler.

"Most of what we see comes down to Mother Nature rather than some kind of pestilence issue," Weber said.

She added that, like most things, flowers come in different grades. The quality purchased - roses with larger petal counts and longer stems, for instance, are considered more premium varieties - makes a difference on the flowers one will receive.

Weber noted that, while issues do arise at times, they're few and far between.

"We just have to be cautious," she said. "If we do see something, we'll let them know. But usually, we're in good shape."

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