The United States imports between 60 and 80 percent of its cut flowers, and most of them come from greenhouses in Latin America, or even as far away as Africa or Europe. Up to 90 percent of the roses sold for Valentine's Day are from Colombia and Ecuador; in 2006, the wholesale value of imported roses was over $300 million.
The additional air freight for bringing these flowers in is certainly not insignificant. If your order (plus packaging) weighs two pounds, you are contributing more than six pounds of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. In addition, growers of flowers do not have to adhere to the food safety standards that produce suppliers do, and so flowers may be doused in chemicals to ward off pests to maintain their unblemished appearance.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service checks for pests and invasive weeds on around 500 million plants (live and cut) each year, but they do not test for biocide residue. Even though you hopefully won't be eating your bouquet, the mere thought of skin contact or inhalation of chemicals may leave you in a less-than-romantic mood. This is also bad news for the people that pick the flowers and for the creeks that receive the runoff. In Colombia, flower-plantation workers are exposed to 127 types of pesticides, the Sierra Club tells us, and flower farms have polluted and depleted Bogota's streams and groundwater. (source)
What to do? Only buy flowers from Veriflora-certified florists such as Organic Bouquet or read this article to learn about the top green flower choices. You can also click here for treehugger's green gift guide.