Valentine's Day: Behind the flower trade

Manjunath Kiran | AFP| Getty Images

Valentine's Day is arguably the biggest day in the calendar for the global flower industry, as the romantics round the world splash out a premium on expensive bouquets for their loved ones.

Just how big is the industry, who are the main players and which are the most sought-after flowers?


Last year, flower exports worldwide amounted to $20.6 billion annually, according to a report from Rabobank last month, a slight decrease from $21.1 billion in 2011.

Read MorePot sweets: Hot for Valentine's

Americans alone will spend $2.1 billion on flowers this year, the National Retail Federation said last month. Among holidays, Valentine's Day saw the highest fresh flower purchases in 2014, capturing 36 percent of total U.S. holiday transactions, data from industry website AboutFlowers showed.

What's hot

Red roses are traditionally the most sought-after flower, but demand for others including tulips, Peruvian lilies, chrysanthemums and mini-carnations is also high, the Society of American Florists said on its website.

"A rose is a truly global product. Behind every Valentine's Day rose, there is an extensive network of people from all over the world - from the farmer, shipper, auctioneer and retailer all co-operating to transport roses from field to hand in a matter of days," said Alex Tabarrok, economist at George Mason University, in a new video on education website MRUniversity.

Major players

The Netherlands is the world's largest exporter of flowers, accounting for 52 percent of the world's cut flowers last year, thanks to numerous large greenhouses across the countryside, Rabobank said.

However, the Dutch share in global flower exports is declining as low-cost competitors like Kenya, Ethiopia, Ecuador, and Colombia, quickly catch up in production.

"Growers in these countries are able to achieve large-scale production of good-quality flowers for competitive prices," Rabobank stated.

"High-cost growers who do not want to sit on thorns need to differentiate themselves from low-cost countries, or become active in these low-cost regions."

Colombia was ranked the world's second largest exporter in 2013 with a $1 billion floral industry, according to government agency ProColombia.

Rise of China

Asia isn't typically represented among flower producing nations but China's Yunnan province has the potential to become a leader in floriculture worldwide, PMA Research said earlier this month.

Yunnan's Dounan Flower Market is Asia's largest flower market, according to Chinese media reports, and sells up to 12 million flowers daily.

"The biggest obstacle to reaching the European and North American markets is logistics. The opening of Kunming Changshui International Airport in 2012 addressed some of those obstacles with increasing access to Europe and cargo capacity that is expected to reach 950,000 tons annually by 2020," PMA said in a note.