Keeping it green: The future of flowers

PHOTOS PROVIDED At left, Nasturtium flowers have a peppery flavor and are often used in salads and used as garnishes.

The annual Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Conference (MAFVC) in Hershey is a chance for area growers to gather new information about pest issues, marketing ideas, and production matters.

It also gives them a glimpse into future trends. Shifting through the agendas over the past years, one development is the increasing number of presentations on flowers (in a vegetable conference!).

Dr. Kathy Kelley, Professor of Horticultural Marketing and Business Management talked about the buying differences of flowers in various generations. The Baby Boomer generation (born between 1946-1964) associated giving flowers as a gift with emotions (e.g. caring, personal, thoughtful).

The buying preferences shift a bit with the next generation (X, 1965-1979) where florists selection had more to do with interesting styles and designs.

Generation Y’s (1980-1995) preferences moved to florists that had the more unusual flowers from exotic locations.

Not only an early spring/late fall bedding plant, the flowers can be used as a garnish or candied.

While no data has yet been collected on those born between 1996 – 2014 (Generation Z), it was noted that their buying power on a whole is greatly influenced by social media.

The point of her talk was that flower producers need to consider the differences in generations when making flower selection in the field/greenhouse and marketing efforts.

While Dr. Kelley explored trends in the aesthetics, Tom Ford (Penn State Extension) combined the visual appeal of flowers with eating.

People are exploring different recipes and cuisines and including flowers. Maybe it is because of our increasing diversity of eating establishments (new types of restaurants such as Asian and Mediterranean) or the reach of social media. Whatever the case, growers can fill this niche by growing some of the 72 common flowers that are considered edible.

Tom noted that if producers are growing for this market, to choose plugs/transplants that have not been treated with crop protectant products (unless labeled otherwise). Most growers of edible flowers rely on organic production methods and biocontrol because of the limited availability of pesticides.

PHOTO PROVIDED Let the female squash flowers produce the fruit (the squash) and harvest the male flowers (don’t develop into fruit as seen in this photo) for a wide variety of recipes. An internet search brought up an interesting one with blossoms stuffed with cheeses and baked. Zucchinis never stop giving!

On that note of pesticides, our humid, rainy climate is a great environment for a number of diseases. Flowers, being no exception, are under pressure from a number of fungal and bacterial organisms.

Pesticides are a bit more available on cut flowers (florist trade) than edible flowers. Even then, emphasis for disease control was placed on disease resistant varieties over pesticides for control.

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Tom Butzler is a horticulture educator with the Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension Service and may be reached at 570-726-0022.

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