PUENTE PIEDRA, Colombia—
Dozens of pairs of hands wearing thick, clumsy rubber gloves bundle thousands of rose bouquets in clear plastic sheets. More hands, these deft and ungloved, slide young buds still on the bush inside socks of protective red mesh to ensure uniform growth. Nine hours spent bent over roses—clipping thorns, measuring stems, wrapping, and shipping the vegetal symbol of love—this is the daily reality of the rose farmers of Puente Piedra.
Colombia is one of the world’s foremost producers of flowers, exporting $1 billion per year and growing. In 2013, 65 percent of all cut flowers imported into the U.S. were from Colombia, up from 55 percent a decade earlier. Exotic species of orchid, anthurium, and bird of paradise are all regularly shipped to the U.S. But the ubiquitous rose is, by far, the country’s biggest flower seller.
The growth in flower exports was partly influenced by a 1991 U.S. government-backed move to curb coca farming and spur job growth in Colombia by eliminating import duties on the country’s flowers. In the 1970s, the U.S. grew more flowers than it imported. As of 2003 that trend has reversed, and the Miami International Airport now processes around 187,000 tons of flowers every year.