Valentine's Confidential: Behind the Flowers

Valentine's Day is coming up — do you know where your flowers are coming from? How about the way they're treated? For an inside peek, spend a day at a florist's shop on the big day itself. Commentator Amy Stewart is the author of the book Flower Confidential.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Valentine's Day is a week away, so there is still time to buy that diamond bracelet or make a nice dinner reservation or maybe just call in an order to the florist. If you go to that last route, you won't be alone.

For weeks, the flower industry has been getting ready for its busiest day of the year. Commentator Amy Stewart is the author of the book, "Flower Confidential," and she spent one Valentine's Day at a florist's shop.

AMY STEWART: Everyone in the shop had been working for three weeks without a day off. There were drivers to hire, vases to order, ribbons to tie. Most of the flowers were arranged and in a vase before anyone ordered them. To meet the demand, florists have to design on spec, creating declarations of love for suitors who have not even picked up the phone.

It's not easy anticipating our romantic whims. Sixty percent of us wait until the last minute to order our flowers, but the floral industry can't afford to wait. About 190 million roses were pushed into production before you even cooked your Thanksgiving turkey.

The florists probably ordered blossoms for your bouquet before Christmas. Planes filled with flowers have been landing at the Miami International Airport, which handles 86 percent of all floral imports since late January.

I sat in the flower shop and watched designers make bouquets in under five minutes. They worked quickly, using a knife to strip off leaves and thorns, leaving their bare hands red and raw.

Some flowers in the lily family cause a painful dermatitis known as tulip finger. One florist had sworn off them in entirely and was only handling roses and greenery.

Every now and then, a rose fell apart, and the petals cascaded to the ground. Ah, there goes $7.50, someone would say without even looking up. If you think roses are expensive on Valentine's Day, just remember they cost the florists more, too. Nobody gets rich trying to keep a high-maintenance, out-of-season flower alive in the middle of winter.

The phone rang constantly with last minute orders, each offering a glimpse into some lover's of predicament. You know, if you don't want roses - one designer said, while looking over the depleted stock in the workroom - we've got a basket of tulips, carnations and heather.

I could imagine the caller thinking heather. What does heather mean? The man settled on red roses - the safe choice. On the next call, the florist offered ideas for the message on the card - with love, I love you, happy Valentine's Day. Okay, thinking of you. Thinking of you - yeah, better make that two-dozen roses, buddy. You're going to need them.

The phone rang again. No, it's not too late. With tax and delivery, that's $87. The line went dead. Everybody laughed, but it was the punchy, nervous laughter of a group of people who hadn't slept in days.

I wondered if the caller realized that he'd just let go of a lifeline - that he'd cut loose his connection to the one man who could still save him. I remember what one person in the business told me. If it's February 15th, go buy her a diamond bracelet. You're too late for flowers.

What's that guy going to do now? the florist said. It's noon on Valentine's Day. He shook his head, weary and bewildered, and went back to stripping roses.

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SIEGEL: Commentator Amy Stewart is the author of "Flower Confidential: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful in the Business of Flowers."

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

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