For Valentine's Day, you probably give your significant other that simple, universal symbol of romance: flowers. Father's Day belongs to the tie salesmen and the Fourth of July belongs to dudes in plywood huts who got fired from the carnival for being too shady, but Valentine's Day belongs to florists. But despite what they sell, it's not always a pretty business. The flower industry is filled with slavery, disease, and pain. We talked to Joanne, a florist, about the dark underbelly of her profession. Here's what she told us ...
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Flowers are reserved for more than high school sweethearts and old married couples. Sometimes florists get tangled up in ugly affairs and angry mistresses. On more than one occasion, I've had guys come in and order two bouquets -- one for the wife and the other for the mistress. (Or mister. Yes, one time the affair bouquet was for another man.) I'm sure these people didn't want to trust a florist with their most damning secrets, but paying in cash for a delivery is much more discreet than ordering online.
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"I want the card to say 'I only love you. That other woman meant nothing to me.'"
"OK. What message would you like with the second bouquet?"
"That was for both."
I've had orders to give dead flowers to exes along with insulting notes, and have been asked if we can ship bees with our flowers. One man asked me if we knew whether his wife (a longtime customer) was allergic to any kind of flower, and if so, if we had any in stock. The most popular evil gift is stargazer lilies, which have a powerful odor that gives some people headaches. One woman offered us over a thousand dollars to buy a Rafflesia (a flower that smells like rotting meat and death). I'm guessing that her relationship status was a little rocky.
"I'm looking for a flower that's less 'love' and more 'Lovecraft.' Do you have anything that bites?"
People want cheap flowers, but roses are always in demand. It's usually around seven dollars a rose, but during Valentine's Day, a nice bouquet of a dozen red roses can go for over $100. At the shop I work at, it's usually between $70-$80 most of the year for a bouquet, but between Christmas and Valentine's, we charge $120 and up.
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"Actual roses were a little pricey, so here's some rosemary, rosea cream, and the lyrics to 'Kiss From A Rose.'"
That's not entirely because we're greedy assholes. Hard winters reduce the number of flowers, so prices rise in that typical Schoolhouse Rock supply-and-demand way. It's not uncommon for people to call, get pissed off over our prices, and hang up ... and then call back several days later when they realize that no one else is any cheaper. By that time, we've often raised our prices again, which gets them an entirely new kind of pissed off.
But absurd rose prices aren't the florist's fault; they're your fault. Everyone wants fresh roses on Valentine's Day, but you can't simply crank them out in a factory. You have to grow them. And since roses don't store well, growers need to have a bunch of them mature just in time for the holiday. In order to do this, they sacrifice a whole December crop of roses so they'll have fresh ones in time for February. Part of what you pay for on Valentine 's Day is that lost crop. You're not only buying roses; you're buying roses, plus the furious ghosts of roses that will never be.
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Roses are the go-to romantic flowers, and that's a damn shame. They're essentially the worst possible kind to grow and distribute en masse. Every Valentine's Day, we florists try to get people to buy other flowers, like tulips or lilies. But no, it's always roses. As is often the case, that romantic appeal hides a disease-riddled, flaccid reality.
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At least the holiday can be thematic.
First of all, roses wilt extremely quickly. Most flowers will stick around for a few weeks, but roses start to die after a few days. Expect that $100+ bouquet to be dried up and dead within a week. You probably could've picked a less ominous symbol of your love.
"Diamonds are forever, but you I give about six weeks."
And then there are diseases -- you don't want to be kissed by a rose. Rose workers get tons of illnesses, and the big one is sporotrichosis (aka rose gardener's disease). We're warned about it every year. Sporotrichosis is a fungus spread by roses. If the flowers aren't cleaned properly, they can give florists and growers alike gross fungus-filled lesions. I got one on my hand, and it was like bee sting that lasted five weeks and required several doctor visits. Spororichosis is rare, since most flowers are washed and cleaned before coming into shops, but it still happens.
That big heart-shaped box of chocolates is looking like the smarter option by the minute.
Also, roses are fragile, and thus doused in pesticides before they arrive at your love's door. Many of these pesticides break down, but a 1998 survey by the EPA detected a dozen separate pesticides on normal market roses. Two of those pesticides were carcinogens, and one was present at 50 times the "safe" level. Nothing says "I love you" like potential cancer. And it gets worse ...
Most roses come from South America, and there's an eight percent chance they were picked and cut by a child laborer with their tiny, numb hands (many of the buildings the flowers are grown and housed in are kept at near-freezing temperatures to make them last longer). Roses are pretty much the blood diamonds of the plant world, and many places refuse to sell them anymore as a result.
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Yup, definitely the box of chocol-- wait, shit.
Things aren't any nicer for the adult workers. In Colombia and Ecuador, the world's rose basket, workers often pull 24-hour days, and two-thirds of them suffer grisly consequences from all the pesticides, like "asthma," "stillbirths," and "congenital malformations." The good news is that companies hiring these workers have taken action ... by which I mean they now require female employees to prove they've been sterilized before applying." Isn't that romantic?
I've worked in retail during the Christmas season, and it has nothing on what flower shops go through in February. It's a madhouse. I'd say we get an order from someone in the store, over the phone, or via the Internet every few minutes. With so many orders coming in, some are bound to have something wrong with them. Most people only order flowers once or twice a year, and they aren't used to the green stuff at the bottom of plants. "Fungus" is actually my biggest complaint, next to late flowers. People always think that this wet foam brick (which is sold on frickin' Amazon) is murdering their flowers.
Fungi don't generally have logos.
We hire extra help during the holiday just to deal with complaints. Some people have trouble handling all that extra negativity. I've had co-workers lock themselves in a closet for a few hours, and one even went to the trouble of shaping a flower arrangement into a giant middle finger.
Before we signed with other companies to handle delivery, we even did that ourselves. We expected to run in, give the recipient a smile, and run out -- trying to make as many deliveries as possible. But nothing goes that smoothly. We get pre-orders a month in advance, and a lot can happen between order and delivery ...
"Excuse me, Ma'am? This may be a bad time, but he hired me to shower you in rose petals."
I've delivered to recently-divorced wives who threw the bouquets back in my face. One even set an expensive $300 arrangement on fire and threw it into her fireplace without a word to me. Then there are the bouquet deliveries to married women that are not from their husbands. One time, a husband interrogated me for five minutes on who the "secret admirer" sending his wife flowers might be. There is no training for florists, delivery people, or any profession ever that prepares you to deal with that awkwardness.
But the worst is death. I've twice found myself delivering to a widow, holding flowers ordered by her recently-deceased husband. One even came with a note instructing me to read aloud: "Harry wants to see you tonight!"
Spoiler: No tip.
I had no idea that Harry was dead, obviously, so I basically announced in my most chipper voice that this woman should join her dead husband in the grave. She did not take it well.
Evan V. Symon is the interview finder guy at Cracked and is a member of the Personal Experience team. Have an awesome job or experience you want to see featured on Cracked? Hit us up at email@example.com, and fame and fortune may soon be yours!
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