Ag at Large: Flowers add color to farming output

The state of California is home to a billion-dollar floral industry. COURTESY OF PIXABAY

Only for some are they edible, but California-grown flowers make a substantial contribution to the state’s agricultural arrangement – and its income.

Their colorful production is widely distributed, especially in the lower half of the state and on its coastal plains. Wholesale markets gather and distribute a large majority of their daily, year-round harvest, and local flower shops provide instant access for a half dozen traditional occasions.

California produces a whopping 78 percent of the country’s volume of cut flowers as recorded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (2015 figures), which keeps tabs on flower production in 15 states. States vying for a distant second place include Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio and Hawaii.

Production of cut flowers in California in 2015 amounted to $294 million, but compilation for the entire floral industry in the state place it at a billion dollars or slightly above on an annual basis.

Sadly for some, funerals are one of the major demands for flower arrangements, a kind of bread-and-butter staple for local florists. Weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, graduations, and dozens of special occasions seem to say “flowers,” and the state’s 350 florists and all of its growers respond daily around the calendar to complete the conversation.

When frosty weather strips the backyard garden of anything colorful, the local flower shop is likely to have just the right combination of locally grown beauties for gifts and acknowledgments or simple warming and freshening of the at-home atmosphere.

And then there are holidays, some more flower-oriented than others, but all placing their aromatic demands on growers and florists whatever the weather. For years the standard Christmastime flower choice has been the colorful poinsettia, a flowering plant that has claimed California as its adopted home.

While the Fallbrook area in San Diego County gives rise to hundreds of acres of wildflowers in the early spring, alighting the hillsides with color, the mammoth production area there for the unique poinsettia has become an ongoing year-round tourist attraction. Visitors to the nursing, growing and packaging center operated by the Eckes family make it a tourist mecca.

And then there is the enormously colorful Tournament of Roses, a parade extravaganza through downtown Pasadena on New Year’s Day. At a time when snow may cover a significant portion of the upper Midwest and East, the colorful pageant of huge floats adorned only with flowers for color dazzles onlookers at curbside and television screens across the country.

Many of the flowers that adorn the professionally designed parade floats are specially grown, and teams of designers compete vigorously for top designation in several categories. The aroma and charm lingers as the intricately constructed floats are parked after they negotiate the parade route for a few days of viewing enjoyment until the flowers begin to wilt.

The most direct source for receiving “flower power” are the state’s local florists. And the most frequent contact with them is funerals. It is unfortunate that a fad has developed wherein customers sometimes specify in newspaper obituary notices that flowers be omitted. Sometimes the supposedly tasteful terminology begins with, “In lieu of flowers …”

The more positive and perhaps tasteful means to engender support for a public service or health organization on the occasion of a funeral is simply to positively suggest contributions to favorite charities or churches without resorting to a negative knock on flowers. In spite of that repeated sleight, the flower industry in California is not only alive and well, but colorful, aromatic and fresh.

In California, florists, flower shops, garden centers, nurseries or however they are designated are traditional outlets for a huge and growing industry. They make perfect scents.