Beyond the Beauty: the Environmental Impact of the Rose

In all blog, Climate Change by admin

Beyond the Beauty: the Environmental Impact of the Rose

May 22, 2024 | all blog |

May is a time for roses. Between the “Run for the Roses” Kentucky Derby held on the first Saturday in May, Mother’s Day in the middle of the month, and a plethora of spring events and weddings, roses seem to be everywhere. They are beautiful; however, behind that beauty lies a complex web of environmental implications, particularly when it comes to commercial cultivation. Roses may symbolize love and passion, but their mass production can leave a not-so-rosy mark on the environment.

As consumers increasingly prioritize sustainability, rose production's environmental impact is being scrutinized. Often grown outside the United States in South America or Africa, roses are a water-intensive crop that requires irrigation systems to maintain their lush appearance. In regions where water resources are scarce, this can exacerbate local water stress and strain ecosystems. Ecuador, one of the world’s primary rose-growing locations, is currently experiencing a severe drought that is requiring water rationing in parts of its country. 

Water is only the start of the commercial rose industry’s thornier side. Growing the perfect rose takes more than planting and watering; the process begins with the land itself. The expansion of commercial rose cultivation often comes at the expense of natural habitats. Large-scale rose farms require vast swaths of land, leading to deforestation and habitat destruction in crucial locations. As we’ve seen with the loss of land in the Amazon biome, the loss of biodiversity can have cascading effects on ecosystems, threatening native flora and fauna and contributing to climate change. 

The rose bush's structure and lifespan lends it to monoculture farming, which can result in depleted soil nutrients and increased vulnerability to pests and diseases. Commercial growers frequently resort to pesticides and fungicides within lesser-regulated countries to protect roses from pests and diseases. With little government oversight, runoff from rose fields can contaminate waterways, harming aquatic life and disrupting fragile ecosystems while pesticide exposure poses risks to farmworkers and nearby communities.

The carbon footprint of commercial rose growing extends beyond the fields. Energy-intensive processes, such as heating greenhouses and transporting flowers to market, contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. By the time a rose is delivered to a mother on Mother’s Day, it may have already traveled thousands of miles, across country borders, by air and truck to first the florist and then the recipient. 

Rather than giving up roses completely, there are more environmentally friendly options available to today’s consumers. The first is to choose the flowers’ source carefully and look for sustainable, more locally-based growers. Farmers who embrace sustainable farming practices that reduce water usage and pesticide reliance, combined with renewable energy in greenhouses and optimized transportation, can help mitigate the impact.