When we think of Hawaii’s agriculture, we often think of pineapples and macadamia nuts. However, Hawaii also has a large orchid industry. There is a big local demand for orchid leis for all the tourists, but actually Hawaii exports more orchids than they keep in their own state. Farmers there grow both potted orchids for growing in homes, and cut blooms to sell to florists and the public. Orchids in Pots If you buy a potted orchid grown in the United States, there is about a 1-in-4 chance that it is a Hawaiian orchid. Farmers on the islands grow over $20 million dollars worth of potted orchids every year. Only California and Florida produce more orchids. Shipping orchids to the mainland is a labor-intensive task. Generally, each flowering stalk is braced by being tied to a small support. Then each pot of flowers must be gently wrapped and packed for an airfreight voyage of hundreds of miles. While mainland growers face fewer transport costs, Asian growers must pay even greater transport costs to send an orchid to the lower 48. A Hawaiian orchid grower can usually get a plant to anywhere in the United States in two working days. Cut Flowers The most long-lived orchid flower spikes can live up to about three weeks after having been cut. And at $3-$4 a stem for the most common varieties, mainlanders are increasingly splurging on a few Hawaiian orchid blooms on special occasions. Orchids, like most flowers, are best cut around dawn, a day or so before the bloom fully opens. Farmers go through their greenhouses and fields every morning to cut the shipment to be sent to the mainland. The stems are bundled together, carefully wrapped in tissue paper, boxed, and sent to the airport immediately. The flowers are then sold to florists and retailers at wholesale flower markets. A Hawaiian orchid stem can get to the consumer a little faster than foreign-grown flowers. When any live plants, even blossoms, are imported into the United States, they are held for USDA inspection to make sure they are free of disease and pest infestations. It might not be so simple to divide Hawaiian orchid farms into potted-plant or cut flower producers. Many cut flowers are raised in potted plants on farms. Then, once the mature plant has reached its peak of flower production, the large potted plants can be sold to customers who want big, impressive vegetation.
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