You can’t miss roses when you visit Quito. Perfectly formed, large blooms sit on cafe tables and fill arrangements in lobbies across the city. Better yet, bouquets of long-stemmed roses cost about a dollar in the local markets.
The abundance startled me. In California terms, roses are expensive extravagances reserved for special occasions. When I moved into my Southern California home I inherited a half-dozen rose bushes. I’ve been on a learning curve, nudging them to bloom ever since. Haven’t lost a bush yet but my garden roses look nothing like the ones I found in Ecuador. They also smell differently. While most nursery roses in Quito are fragrance-free (a trade off for the big blooms and long stems,) they also create ‘garden varieties’ for scent and shorter stems.
Find out where your roses come from in this short video:
Why is Quito the Capital of Roses?
Among many of Ecuador’s riches is a high, Andean zone with near perfect growing conditions for all kinds of flowers. The equatorial climate offers direct, natural sunlight year round. The altitude of the Quito region, nearly ten thousand feet above sea level, with its cool nights, is perfect for long-stemmed roses. About 400 varities grow in the highlands. (When you visit, this earlier post about fighting altitude sickness in South America, may be helpful.)
In villages and on plateaus outside of Quito, thousands of Ecuadorians tend to roses. Most grow in long, poly-fabric tunnels that shelter the roses from the blistering equatorial sun. I spied several as my flight home rose into the clouds.
Exporting flowers boosts the economy by over 100 million dollars yearly. Roses were massively popular in Russia until their economy sank. The United States became the primary importer until political jousting led to cancellation of import programs in place since the 1990’s. Those programs encouraged jobs over illegal crops and drug trafficing. Americans have also favored shorter stemmed roses. Now, it appears that China is interested in importing Asia-rare varieties. It takes one to four days to deliver the bundles across the world.
Tending to roses has been a boon for many Ecuadorians. Robin Penaherrea, owner of LatinFlor Ecuador, has seen both social and economic changes in counties that have flowers. About fifty percent of the jobs are for women. Adult and grown offspring often work together, which helps them live in their communities too.
Roses with a Conscience
With so much at stake and so many involved, a group of seven certified flower producers formed the Ecuador Fair Trade Association. They pledged to provide fair working conditions, freedom of association (the right to organize,) and respect for the environment. In those organizations the workers receive ten percent of the price paid for the flowers. While the average wage for flower workers in South America is around $250 a month, Ecuadorian flower workers fare better. Those working in Fair Trade companies also have another benefit. The Fair Trade Premium money, that ten percent, goes into projects that directly benefit the workers. They decide how to spend the savings through surveys and ‘democratic’ processes. The benefits include education, computer access and training, health programs, loans to buy land or improve homes.
Renewable energy, reduced pesticide use and organic fertilizers have also been part of the Fair Trade Association member growers mission.
Back in San Diego I wondered if any of my garden blooms evolved from varieties imported from Ecuador. For decades their garden roses have been promoted in the US for their scent, shapes and color. I’m no gardener but hopefully, I’ll enjoy them for years to come and will never forget Quito’s beautiful bouquets.
More blossoms in Quito:
- Visit the Botanical Garden for tours and don’t miss the Orchid House
- Take an Orchids and Flowers of Ecuador Tour
- If you qualify, attend the International Flower Show in Quito in September, 2018.
Post sources include: Reuters, Why Ecuador’s Roses Stand Out, Floralinkla, How changes in Ecuador Affect You, Ecuador.com – Supporting producers in Ecuador through Fair Trade.