A lesson in roses
"Esta rosa es Pink Floyd," says Roberto Gines, a 34-year-old Ecuadorian entrepreneur, as he proudly reaches toward a blossom at the end of a 4-foot stem at his rose farm. He's saying, "This rose is Pink Floyd" in Spanish, maintaining the English moniker of the band after whom the roses are named. This is a guy who really knows his flowers.
I became acquainted with Roberto and his wife, Emilia, after moving to northern Ecuador a few weeks ago. Our mutual friend, Clare, a Spanish-speaking American starting a nearby ecotourism business, serves as our interpreter for this private tour. On a sunny Friday morning we are walking through his 0.5 hectare (1.25 acre) greenhouse on the outskirts of Cotacachi, a peaceful town of 9,000 snugly situated in a valley between two volcanoes.
We learn a rose by any other name might also be Orange Crunch, Bikini (yellow), Alba (white) or a series of High Magic varieties. Roberto explains that whoever develops the variety of rose has the right to name it.
If you purchase or receive roses in Duluth this year, there is a good chance that they will have come from Ecuador since the country is a major producer of roses sold in the United States. Large plantations dot the landscape in this region. Ecuador (the Spanish word for equator) offers a year-round temperate climate and direct sunlight all year.
Roberto sells his roses to the United States, Italy, Russia, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands. Customers have diverse desires for their flowers. Russians, for example, prize long stems and pay by the centimeter, the longer the better, often reaching lengths more than 5 feet. In the United States, the "Freedom" red rose is the bestseller. After being cut, roses are sorted by color, variety, length of stem and quality prior to shipment.
Popular rose characteristics change every four to five years and there are always innovations in the works. One of the recent experimental strains is called the "Explorer," a rose that does not have any thorns. (So much for all the metaphors about roses and thorns!)
Before striking out on his own a year ago, Roberto spent a number of years working his way up on large rose farms to learn the business. He co-owns "Cotacachi Flowers" with a partner who is an agronomist and the operation currently employs five people. He explains it costs about 20 cents to produce a rose. Depending on the season and customer, each rose typically sells for 30-50 cents.
Regulations for the industry continue to increase. Roberto uses mostly organic methods, including an oh-so-fragrant mixture of garlic, onion and fermented sugar cane as a natural pesticide. Ingenious drug traffickers sometimes inject their product into plant stems and masquerade as rose exporters; thus, additional inspections are common.
Our tour concludes at the refrigerated cooler where roses are stored before shipping. The visit goes above and beyond any expectations and ends with a bouquet of 18 red roses for us to take home. Being surrounded by roses can only be good for the soul.
As Roberto drives us home, my friend and I casually comment that his livelihood makes women around the world very happy and sometimes even gets men out of trouble. He smiles knowingly, looks straight at the road ahead, and wisely doesn't say a word.
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Adriana Atencio, left, and her mother, Rosa Cuaspua, sort roses before shipment. (Photo by Arlene Anderson)
Clare Fitzgerald and Roberto Gines with a bouquet of Pink Floyds. (Photo by Arlene Anderson)
The writer with a smorgasbord of Ecuadorian roses. (Photo submitted)
In the United States, the "Freedom" red rose is the bestseller.