A bunch of flowers is one of life’s simple, fragrant and beautiful pleasures. Who doesn’t love a bouquet of fresh flowers making their dining table look fancy? But most people wouldn’t think of cut flowers from the local florist as unethical. They grow in the ground, they are natural and compostable - what’s the problem? Like any commodity, flowers actually exist in a large supply chain from growers, breeders to wholesalers, nurseries, florists and retail.

Approximately 10% of flowers in Australia are imported from countries such as Kenya, India, Colombia and Ecuador for roses; Singapore and Thailand for orchids; Malaysia and South Africa for chrysanthemums; China and Vietnam for carnations.

 Image: Unsplash

Image: Unsplash

The are a few reasons why flowers are imported into Australia:

  • Increased demand at certain times of the year, eg. red roses on Valentine's Day
  • Australia doesn’t have the ideal climate to grow some varieties
  • Sometimes it’s cheaper to import than it is to grow (yikes!)
  • The expertise doesn’t exist here to grow a few specific varieties

The countries Australia imports from don’t have the same labour or environmental protection laws as here. This means many overseas workers in the flowers industry are often exploited. They can work in poor conditions, live in poverty because they don’t earn a living wage and work long hours doing hard physical labour. There is the risk of chemical exposure as the cut flower industry is one of the largest consumers of pesticides globally.

More locally there is the waste involved in day to day floristry in the form of wet packs, florist foam and plastic wrapping. As a consumer this can be hard to avoid but there are florists out there who are conscious of their environmental impact.

How to shop better:

Buy local flowers

Fortunately most flowers in Australia are sold within 100 kms of where they are grown; unfortunately there are no requirements for the flower industry to comply with country of origin labelling laws. Strike up conversation with your local florist and ask where they source their flowers from. Buy from local farmers markets where you can be sure that the flowers are locally grown (this is much easier in the southern areas of Australia due to the climate being more ideal for growing flowers).

Don’t Buy From the Supermarkets

According to Choice, the big supermarkets are also squeezing out local growers, so avoid purchasing from the big two players.

Be mindful

If you are going to purchase flowers such as roses, orchids, chrysanthemums and carnations. These are the most commonly imported flowers. Around Valentine’s Day, it’s pretty much guaranteed that nearly all roses will be imported.

Fair Trade and organic

Unfortunately there isn’t a big uptake of fair trade and organic certification in the floristry and flower growing industry as it can be hard to trace the origins of flowers, especially when they are mixed together. At the time of writing this, we weren’t able to find any florists with fair trade or organic certification. Please let us know if you know of any.

Buy native flowers and foliage

By buying native Australian flowers you can be sure they are grown in Australia. They tend to be hardier and last longer than the more delicate flowers.

Grow your own

You don’t need much space to grow your own flowers and many flowers are surprisingly easy to grow. Some flowers that are easy to grow include: Sunflowers, California poppy, Zinnias, Marigolds, Sweet Peas, Nasturtiums, Pansies, Dahlias and Daffodils to name a few.

Buy a potted plant

Buying a potted plant as a gift instead of cut flowers. It will last longer and is much better for the environment. Choose something you know even a the blackest thumb will keep alive like Cactus, Succulents, Zanzibar or Devil’s Ivy.