Midtown’s Flowers a Global Industry



Prospective customers walk past a sea of chrysanthemums and other plants in the flower district on West 28th Street. Photo: Annie Zak.

Between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, one turn onto West 28th Street and the world of Midtown West quickly changes; suddenly passersby are walking through a leafy jungle of tropical trees and the sidewalks are filled with chrysanthemums. Orchids are on display in many windows, while other shops are full of roses or synthetic flowers.

Very few of the plants sold in Midtown’s flower district are grown in New York, which doesn’t have the year-round climate to sustain the products the vendors sell. For some of the larger plants like banana trees, many shops source from Homestead, Fla. and surrounding areas.

“Where the flowers come from is basically a secret,” said Luis Martinez, manager of Garden Plants, Inc., which specializes in orchids among other plants. He said that while the store’s orchids are usually grown further north in New York state at United Orchids, Inc., they only mature in the U.S.—they originally come from China and Thailand.

“They come in spikes,” said Martinez, which are what the young flower stalks are called. Orchid spikes are shipped from overseas and spend two to three months on a cargo ship, said Martinez. “There’s a lot of humidity on the ocean, so it’s good for the plants.” There is a full nursery facility aboard the ship, with humidifiers to help the young orchids thrive. Millions of orchids come over on one shipment, and from there are sent to United Orchids, Inc. in Middletown, N.Y. , which in turn sends its plants to four other states in the U.S.—Colorado, Illinois, Virginia and Florida.

United Orchids, Inc., founded in 2009, declined to comment, though the company’s website indicates it gets its orchids from Taiwan-based parent company Yu Pin Technologies, founded in 1993, and “this has afforded United Orchids Inc the distinct advantage of possessing exclusive rights to scientifically advance orchid stock as well as patented novelty colors.”

Employees from Garden Plants, Inc. go to Middletown every week to pick up the plants from United Orchids, while other employees truck products—most of them from Florida nurseries—up to the city weekly.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2007 data for flowers, nursery stock and florists’ supplies wholesalers, the industry brought in an average of over $11.5 billion annually between 2002 and 2007, an increase compared to a $10 billion average in 2002 and an $8 billion average in 1997.

The website for the Association of Floral Importers of Florida (AFIF) says that Miami floral imports “supplies approximately two-thirds of the flowers consumed in the U.S,” and that near Miami’s airport alone there are about 75 companies dedicated to the flower business. AFIF also says that every day, 40,000 boxes of flowers arrive at Miami International Airport.

Harvest – A Rose by Harvest (owned by Astoria-based Harvest Wholesale Floral, Inc.), a storefront on West 28th Street that specializes in roses, has to go further than Miami for its product; five times a week, rose shipments arrive from Ecuador via Miami —nearly 11 billion in the second week of October this year alone, according to AFIF, 2,000 of which go to Harvest.

“We get the roses fresh, within 48 hours of when they are [picked],” said employee Zefe Baez. Most of the roses from Ecuador come from Quito and are grown on various farms, not in nurseries or greenhouses. Baez estimated that about 95 percent of their roses come from Ecuador, but the company also gets flowers from Holland, Israel, Mexico and other countries, according to their website. Baez said Harvest, which started selling flowers from trucks in 1997, has a partnership company that helps them ship through Holland and eventually the roses arrive at the airport in New York City, where the plants are kept in a refrigerated facility until the company picks them up.

Across the street from Harvest, Ched Markovic, co-owner of Noble Planta, specializes in succulents and cacti. Aside from those, which often originate in California, most of Noble Plant’s products also come from Florida. Though he wouldn’t identify the source specifically, he said that it was “1,267 miles approximately” from New York City, near Homestead and Miami.

“The nurseries, I cannot tell you,” Markovic said. “That’s a personal secret.” Noble Planta also gets plants from China, Taiwan and South America.