Are Roses Really Romantic?

Are Roses Really Romantic?

The eternal symbol of love and ephemeral beauty of a bouquet of flowers never goes unnoticed at this time of the year. Receiving a dozen cut red roses might have once been the most poetic of gestures, something to brighten up your day and your home. But are flowers really as pretty as you may perceive? Roses are red, but a rose is not a rose.

The flower industry is one of the biggest consumers of pesticides in the world. And while pesticides may explain the visual perfection of roses being so red, they are also the reason for poisoned workers, and polluted waters and wildlife. So, from an ethical front, no, flowers are not all that pretty. Freshly cut bouquets are merely a contribution to climate crisis.

But blooms are a booming business. Colombia dominates the global flower trade as the largest producer of cut flowers while Ecuador, Sri Lanka and Kenya follow closely behind for their fixed warmer climates. The US holds first place as the world’s largest consumer of cut flowers, with their main supply sources coming from Columbia and Ecuador. The majority of imported flowers sold in Europe come from East Africa, nearing the equator. The flower trade market is fast and sporadic, which increases its environmental impact. Imported cut flowers are flown extensive distances in refrigerated airplane holds with the aim of reaching a vase straight from the field in 3-5 days. Due to refrigeration and long-haul transport, they can create consequential carbon footprints.

Flower farm in Colombia. Photo: KUEHNE+NAGEL

International flights aren’t the only fault to flowers, however. When cultivated in cooler climates, they require heated greenhouses. This type of flower production generates higher levels of C02 emissions since they are driven by electricity trying to emulate the strong sun of the equator. For flowers grown in cooler countries, there is a greater carbon outpour, that can reach up to 5 times more than flowers produced in equatorial places. This doesn’t just harm the planet, but workers too. They are exposed to the toxins in fertilizers and various types of pesticides and preservatives used to lengthen the lives of cut flowers. Local communities also suffer the consequences as Ecuadorian researchers have observed that children living near Ecuador’s flower-growing greenhouses had altered short-term brain activity due to toxin exposure from contaminated clothing bought home by workers. Waters and wildlife within reach of flower farms are also likely to be contaminated by pesticides suggested by lifeless floating fish.

While a bouquet of tulips, roses or lilies can be considered a thoughtful gift from a loved one, they come with a heavy price to pay, and in more ways than just money. As consumers, it’s time to start considering alternatives such as swapping florals for fruits or a bouquet of something leafier. Or if you’re not ready for that replacement, sourcing flowers from local or organic farms is a sustainable start.