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HOW ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY IS GIVING FLOWERS REALLY?

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It’s just over two weeks till Valentine’s day, where flowers, chocolates & teddies (bears that is) rain down upon besotted couples. Humblebrag Facebook posts fill your newsfeed and if you are not couple-d up the day can be a tad wearing.

Flowers are one of my favourite gifts to receive; beautiful, colourful and delicious smelling. However I have always wondered just where they are grown and how.

The most popular flower for showing your love is of course, roses. Roses symbolize your undying affection for your other half. Yellow stands for friendship, pink means admiration and red of course shows you love for another person.

But how do our florists meet the intense demand for these roses?

Turns out, the vast majority of roses sold on Valentine’s day are imported. Over six million roses are bought over from India every year and sold at a lower price point than local roses, meaning our producers here can’t compete.

This is how you can get a dozen red roses for under $100. Imported roses are also treated (with roundup) at the border to ensure there are no biosecurity risks hiding in a petal or on a leaf, meaning the roses don’t last anywhere near as long, nor is their scent as beautiful.

What does importing roses mean for the environment?

The biggies are obvious; each rose has travelled a much larger distance so has a significant carbon footprint attached. Pesticide regulations and restrictions are looser in India, meaning your roses have possibly been exposed to greater quantities of insecticides that may or may not be approved for use in New Zealand and could be wreaking havoc on the land and the farmers who work on it.

There is concern that the use of systemic pesticides (pesticides that are absorbed by the plant and become present in its living tissue) such as imidacloprid are contributing to Colony Collapse Disorder in bees. As bees collect pollen from these treated flowers, the pesticides are present in the pollen and affect the bees. This is an area of further study.

The roses are transported in layers of plastic and polystyrene to keep them cool. As we know, polystyrene never breaks down, and apart from one or two very clever entrepreneurs, we really don’t know what to do with it after we’ve finished.

What are the conditions in which the producers are made to work? Are they paid fairly for their efforts, treated well, do they have safety gear when spraying pesticides and so on.

Why buy local?

Local roses on the other hand, don’t have the carbon miles, are subject to pesticide regulation (although flower growers do use more pesticides on average than almost any other crop) and are subject to NZ labour laws.

NZ roses are still bulk shipped around in plastic and polystyrene and individual bouquets are usually packaged in plastic wrap.

Also as some flowers don’t naturally grow in our climates but are in demand by consumers, hothouses are used to produce them. As they use a lot of energy these flowers have a high carbon footprint associated.

How to give ecofriendly flowers this Valentine’s day:

- Give a native plant rather than a bouquet of flowers

- Buy local flowers from a producer who practices great environmental stewardship (ie avoiding hothouse growers.) Ask your florist about the origin (it’s not only roses which are imported)

- Watch what your flowers are wrapped in - opt for biodegradable cellophane, not pretty plastic wraps.