Valentine's Day: Where do our roses come from?

Roses for your Valentine
Roses for your Valentine Credit: Clara Molden

It is about this time of year where we start to think about getting the right flowers for our loved ones. Valentine’s Day, the scourge of anti-Cupids, represents something wholly international as far as flowers are concerned.

You might have some questions about where the flowers you’re buying actually come from. So, to answer them, here's a quick run down.

Where do they come from?

Africa - Kenya, to be precise. In the last 20 years, cut flowers have joined tourism and tea as one of Kenya’s biggest employers and exports.

How big are the flower farms that supply us?

At Oserian, one of the Kenyan flower farms, as many as a million stems a day are packed onto conveyor belts.

Oserian flower farm Credit: Clara Molden

How do flowers get from Kenya, though?

By hook or by crook. 

First cut in a field, flowers are then transported by refrigerated truck to avoid spoilage. Next up, is the plane – perhaps to Amsterdam, to be sold at auction to wholesalers. After that, they are distributed to independent florists and retail chains such as Interflora.

But, they look so perfect. How do they get to me unspoiled?

At each stage of the proceedings, the roses must be kept cold. If not, there’s a chance that they could wilt and spoil before they get to your Valentine.

Roses being packed at Oserian Credit: Clara Molden

Is there anything else I need to know?

If you're interested in the history, yes. Getting flowers from source to consumer has always required innovation. Rail links to London brought bulbs from Lincolnshire to the rest of the country, while in 1896, a new hall was built at Covent Garden for carnations overnighted from the French Riviera.

Almost a century later, in 1969, cargo planes began to airfreight flowers from Colombia where roses flower all year round. Now, the international cut-flower trade is estimated at $60 a year.