February's Flowers

I don’t know if there is anything I look forward to more than the flowers of February.

I love all flowers all the time, but there is something special about the first daffodils and tulips of the new year.

These days we see tulips earlier in the fall and further into the spring, but some of the finest specimens of the season are here now — just in time to brighten our world.

February is a good month to be in the flower business, particularly if you like to stay busy. Valentine’s Day is the first of the triple crown of floral holidays, where sales in flowers from all over the world are huge. For Valentine’s the traditional focus is on roses and the demand is enormous.

But February also marks the start of the season where bulb flowers and orchids are exceptional all the way through Easter and on to Mother’s Day. It’s a time when flower growers, buyers and retailers get to show off the impressive array of Mother Nature’s gifts.

Most bulb flowers are grown in both greenhouses and in the fields. While the greenhouse bulbs tend to be easier to predict, field flowers (particularly daffodils) tend to be larger, hardier and generally more desirable.

Rain and cloud cover, temperature, plant stage and various other conditions all influence harvest timing.

And because the season is so short and the window of optimal harvest conditions so narrow, the supply of bulb flowers can go from feast to famine and back again in a matter of days.

Tulips and daffodils are cool climate plants that require a period of dormancy every year in order to produce a flower. For greenhouse production this can be accomplished by storing bulbs in giant coolers until they are ready to be planted.

Growers can also use this method to regulate the size of their crop — by chilling larger or smaller amounts to match demand. This makes the ramp up in volume for holidays like Easter or Mother’s Day much easier to manage.

With both field and greenhouse flowers, springtime also has a way of creating spot opportunities — a few sunny days can swing the pendulum in the “over supply” direction and it is not uncommon to see multiple-bunch bargains at great prices.

Traditionally, the peak for springtime bulb flowers is in March, but the weather can move the harvest peak in either direction.

Aside from their obvious beauty, I love the life cycle of bulb flowers. I’ll buy a bunch of tulips or daffodils on the weekend and watch the mystery of cell expansion unfold over the course of the week.

When tulips are harvested, the cells of the plant are tight and compressed. As the plant ages, these cells open up making the bloom larger and the stems longer (and weaker). This “goose neck” effect is just one of a long list of things I love about this elegant flower.

I think what makes February flowers special over flowers picked in any other month is that they come at a time when I need them the most.

Right now the trees are barren and my neighborhood is a flat, monochromatic, wintertime bland. This winter has been mild in most places but it’s still winter — the days are shorter and, in most places, colder. February’s flowers are full of color and variety, but also full of promise. The way they bloom speaks to an awakening.

It’s as if they’re reminding us winter is almost over and spring will be here soon.

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