The floral innovations that changed the cut flower industry

Every 24 hours, 30 million plants and flowers arrive in Holland from all over the world with most passing through three flower auctions within a 60 square mile area3.  The main Royal FloraHolland flower operations include 1,140 loading docks and cover a 14 million square feet area, the equivalent of 243 football fields3.  Such an advanced operation is only made possible by the long history of floral and agricultural innovations.

After making it through the auction, flowers head to Germany, the U.K., and France, with 90% leaving the same-day by road and 10% by air to Asian, the U.S., and some Russian markets3. The flowers that imported and exported around the world are able to survive due to the creation of refrigerated transport.

Methods of temperature-controlled shipping

The transportation of temperature-sensitive products such as fresh-cut flowers along a supply chain includes thermal and refrigerated packaging methods as well as logistical planning to protect the quality of shipments7. Products such as fresh-cut flowers can be transported via refrigerated trucks and railcars, refrigerated cargo ships, as well as by air7.

From a geographical perspective, transporting cold temperature products has the following impacts7:

Global Impacts

Specialization of agricultural functions allows temperature-sensitive food products and fresh-cut floral products to be transported to distant markets7. In 1980, 33% of the refrigerated transport of products in maritime shipping was transitioned into customized containers. This percentage rapidly increased to 72% in 20137.

Regional Impacts

Temperature control can support the specialization of crop production and economic improvements7. This could include large cold storage facilities that are able to service regional grocery markets or wholesale suppliers7.

Local Impacts

Timely distribution to the final consumer of fresh-cut flowers is made mainly to grocery stores, florists, or wholesale suppliers7.

Rewind: what about the beginnings of floral innovations?

Prior to 1701, seeding of fields was done primarily by hand and was scattered on the ground. Farmer and inventor Jethro Tull felt this process was wasteful and invented the seed drill in 17012. This machine included a hopper for seed storage, a cylinder to move the seed, and a funnel to direct the seeds into the ground. A plow was placed at the front of the drill, the seed was dropped onto the ground, and a harrow on the back covered the seed back up with soil2. This invention was the first agriculture machine with moving parts and has since been modified to fit future needs.

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Whats plugs got to do with it?

The creation of plugs, otherwise known as plug plants, has allowed growers to increase seedling production without having to increase growing space. Plant plugs are young plants or seedlings grown in polystyrene trays with individual cells filled with a variety of soil and soil-less growing mediums1. The use of plugs is used for small and large scale raising of vegetables, bedding, and floral plants in a greenhouse. Once these seedlings have grown a solid root system, they can be transplanted into larger containers for individual sale or directly into the ground1. Furthermore, some plant varieties can only be propagated from cuttings. These plants are able to be propagated in smaller cells allowing for a greater number of starter plants1.

What makes plant plugs successful are the trays they are grown in. In 1987, inventor Gene E. Greiling of Greiling Farms Inc filed for a patent on a multi-cell plant tray8. Mr. Greiling identified traditional propagation cups as being the culprit for diseased or damaged plants. His observations stated that the round cups left the plants subjected to heat exhaustion and disease due to the compact nature of the cups. The round shape was also found to cause spiraling root systems, causing root strangulation8. The creation of the plant plug tray used hexagonal cups that would force the roots to grow downward and would give plants space for aeration.

Traditionally, plant trays are made out of black plastic. Due to the inability to recycle black plastics worldwide, propagation trays are often discarded into landfills.

Pots, trays, and packs created by Desch Plantpak are not only responsibly produced, but also responsibly recycled4. Desch Plantpak integrated an efficient recycling system for its trays by collecting contaminated and used trays from their customers. These trays are then disinfected, dried, and ground into granules that are then used for the production of new trays. The polypropylene and polystyrene films are produced in-house at Desch Plantpak using advanced extrusion technologies which allow the company to process 100% recycled raw materials4.

Improving growing conditions after the seedling stage

Once a seed has matured and outgrown its plug, it then needs to either be transplanted into the ground or into bigger containers. Amending soils with peat moss has improved nutrient quality and availability to young plants. So much so that approximately one million tons of peat is harvested each year. The use of peat moss has increased in recent years and currently does not pose a threat to the environment since an annual harvest is equivalent to 0.02 percent and is offset by the creation of 70 million tons of peat each year. The majority of peat that’s used globally is extracted from Canada and Michigan6

It’s tunnel time

High tunnels are one of the biggest influencers in horticulture season extension in northern climates5. Warm-season crops like tomatoes and cucumbers benefit from the additional heat created in a high tunnel, allowing for earlier spring planting and extends the harvest into late fall5. Cool-season crops such as spinach and lettuce can be planted in high tunnels which provide further protection and harvesting can continue through much of the winter5.

As time has progressed, the innovations in the floral industry have progressed to address the needs of the time. Jethro Tull’s creation of the seed drill made planting easier and faster. Some would argue that his invention created commercial farming. To further improve the growing process, earth-friendly products such as recycled pots and plant trays, plant plugs, and peat have been created and limit the impact of any growing operation. What floral innovations are next?

1. Agriculture Victoria. (2009, March). Seedling production using cell trays. Retrieved from
2. Desch Plantpak. (n.d.). Desch Plantpak – Growing TogetherGrowing Together. Retrieved from
3. Dean Croke, Chief Analytics Officer, FreightWaves. (2019, March 26). The logistical dance that gets all those flowers to market in Europe…and elsewhere. Retrieved from
4. Desch Plantpak. (2019). Desch Plantpak – Growing Together. Retrieved from
5. Rodrigue, J. R., & Notteboom, T. (2017). The Cold Chain and its Logistics. Retrieved from
6. ThoughtCo. (2015, June 24). How Jethro Tull Brought Science to Farming With the Seed Drill. Retrieved from
7. Rodrigue, J. P., & Notteboom, T. (2019, August 30). The Cold Chain and its Logistics. Retrieved from
8. United States Patent. (1989, August 8). Plant Tray. Retrieved from
Every 24 hours, 30 million plants and cut flowers arrive in Holland from all over the world. How did the floral industry get so big? It all began with some problem-solving innovations!

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