Floral Carnage

I’m not much of a gardener, never have been. My last attempt to plant anything was a couple of years ago when someone gifted me with a Bonsai kit (planter, soil, seeds), and that result was typical — seedlings that poked their head above the soil, looked around, saw who they would be dependent on for their very lives, and promptly gave up their ghosts. I planted lights after that, and we’re all happy. Nothing to kill, just a bit of beauty when I’m feeling down.

I love flowers, and sometimes when I see bouquets in the grocery store, I’m tempted to buy the blooms to add a bit of life to my life, but I’ve never been able to bring myself to make the purchase. Even though the flowers were grown for such a use, I can’t help feeling I’d be buying death. I’ve only received flowers as a gift a couple of times, and I treasured them, but I’ve never been able to return the favor. Death, death, my soul cries out, and so the flowers remain unpurchased.

Now that I know the truth about flowers as a commodity (or part of the truth), I’m doubly glad I never participated in floral carnage.

In The World Without Us, Alan Wiesman explores the problems Kenya’s Lake Naivasha is experiencing after Kenya bypassed Israel to become Europe’s biggest provider of cut flowers. Weisman writes:

A flower, like a human, is two thirds water. The amount of a typical exporter therefore ships to Europe each year annual needs of the town of 20,000 people. During droughts flower factory production quotas stick siphons into Lake Naivasha, a papyrus-lined freshwater bird and hippo sanctuary just downstream from the Aberdares. Along with water they suck up entire generations of fish eggs. What trickles back whiff of the chemical trade-off the keeps the bloom on a rose flawless all the way to Paris.

Lake Naivasha, however doesn’t look quite so alluring. Phosphates and nitrites leached from flower greenhouses have spread mats of oxygen-choking water hyacinth across its surface. Water hyacinth — a South American perennial invaded Africa as a potted plant — crawls ashore beating back the papyrus. The rotting tissues of hippo carcasses reveal the secret to perfect bouquets: DDT and, 40 times more toxic, Dieldrin — pesticides banned in countries whose markets have made Kenya the world’s number-one rose exporter.

I doubt the flowers I see in grocery stores and in the hands street corner sellers come from Kenya, but wherever they come from, many of the problems would be the same. As any gardener knows, perfect roses and carnations, orchids and lilies, don’t grow all by themselves. They have become addicted to the chemicals that make them marketable.

For now, I’ll find my flower enjoyment in the blooms I see in gardens or in my potted lights. At least I know I’m not contributing to mass murder.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.