Where did these Valentine’s Day flowers come from? The airport, sweetheart

Behind the bouquet from your valentine, the single rose from a crush and the elaborate arrangement from a significant other, there’s a multibillion-dollar flower industry that thrives around this time each year.

Right on cue, billions of flowers are flowing into the U.S. to prepare for the big Valentine’s Day demand. Most arrive in Miami from Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico and the Netherlands.

More than 90 percent of imported flowers move through Miami International Airport, according to UPS. The package delivery company is the largest air cargo carrier flying into MIA.

Domingo Mendez, UPS’s cargo marketing manager for the Americas, said in a statement that the increased demand for flowers means UPS has to allocate more resources in the days leading up to V-Day.

The company added “34 temperature-controlled flights to deliver the 236,000 boxes of blooms expected to flow through our network in the two weeks prior to Valentine’s Day,” he said.

Not all is paradise in the world of flowers. UPS aircraft mechanics planned a protest Monday morning at The UPS Store at 936 SW First Ave. in Miami over company benefits.

LATAM Cargo transported more than 9,000 tons of flowers worldwide, or about 16 million bouquets, from Colombia and Ecuador in the past month. Eighty-seven percent of these were transported to the U.S, and the majority landed in Miami.

At Miami International, LATAM owns the largest cold-storage warehouse operated by a foreign air carrier at an airport in the country.

After touching down in Miami, the flowers are kept in a refrigerated warehouse the size of five basketball courts. While the flowers stay fresh there, agriculture specialists from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) examine the millions of blooms for any stowaways — plant pests clinging to the stems. Officials want to prevent insects and plant diseases from spreading.

“From Jan. 24 through Feb. 14, our peak season for Valentine's Day, we process a lot of cut flowers,” said Christopher Maston, the CBP Port Director. “Miami International Airport receives 88 percent of the imported cut flowers that come into the United States. The cut flower industry is a $15 billion industry in the United States, 200,000 jobs.”

Maston said the specialists will find about 1,800 pests.

Christine Boldt, executive vice president of the Association of Floral Importers of Florida, said her organization estimates that 80 percent of flowers that people purchase in the U.S. are imported.

Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day are two huge days for the industry. Flowers of all types sell easily for the latter, but on February’s most affectionate day the holiday’s signature flower is king.

“Valentine’s Day is really focused on one flower: the rose,” Boldt said.

Roses are in such demand that farmers increase their yields significantly, creating a need to hire more workers and allocate more resources all along the supply chain, from the farm to the trucks that carry to the imported flowers to wholesalers.

“There’s an additional cost all along the way,” she said, which is why roses are more expensive around Valentine’s Day.

Miami, in particular, gets kissed from the rose more than anyone else. Year after year, Miami International Airport consistently receives the most flower imports of any other U.S. port. Flowers rank seventh among all imports, according to WorldCity, a Coral Gables media and data research company.

Miami Herald staff writer Mimi Whitefield contributed to this report.

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