The US cut flower industry has undergone major upheaval since 2000 in the face of global competition. Yet this period has also seen promising signs of rebirth and innovation in local flower production.

Jumbo Jets

Imports have heavily disrupted the domestic cut flower business. Over three-fourths of flowers sold in the US are now grown overseas, mostly in Colombia and Ecuador. Mass transportation of cheap blooms has driven many large, commercial American flower growers out of business. California’s flower farms have been hit especially hard. The number of acres in flower production there has dropped by over 50% since 2000.

Over the same period, Miami, with its warm climate and busy international airport, has established itself as the number one port for cut flower imports into the United States. An astonishing number of flowers come through Miami International Airport every day from all over Central and South America. Colombia is the biggest source of imported flowers, supplying over 75% of all the blooms brought into Miami. Other major contributors are Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Guatemala. In the days leading up to big flower holidays like Valentine’s and Mother’s Day, it’s a 24-hour operation at Miami International Airport. Cargo planes touch down every few minutes, disgorging load after load of vibrant blooms. An army of workers sorts the incoming flowers, bundles them into bunches, and rushes them off to flower shops across the eastern U.S. It’s a sight to behold.

Slow Flowers

But the tide may be turning back toward local flowers. Consumers are increasingly recognizing the environmental and economic impacts of an airborne international supply chain and demanding flowers grown nearby. Customers want freshness, quality, and to support local economies. The slow flower movement prioritizes flowers grown sustainably and ethically within regional ecosystems. This mirrors the rising popularity of the 50-mile bouquet, available at farmers markets and via CSAs. Floral designers also value the wide variety, textures, and colors of locally grown flowers versus generic imported blooms.

In response, some small US flower farms are adapting new business models. Many focus on growing unique, heirloom flowers in high demand. Others have diversified by providing agritourism experiences like flower picking and workshops. Farm-to-florist distribution networks bypass the centralized warehouses that handle most imported flowers. Cooperative associations give US growers combined marketing and shipping power. Small, start-up, urban flower farms are also popping up to serve metro markets. The revival of local flowers faces ongoing challenges like high labor costs and land pressures, but consumers increasingly recognize the ecological, social, and economic benefits of American-grown blooms. By reinventing itself, the US cut flower industry has shown it will continue to blossom.