12 Reasons to Avoid Conventional Flowers This Mother's Day and 5 Alternative Gift Options

photo by Lisa Kleger

In a little-known Hallmark holiday back-story, the disturbing nature of which rivals even Valentine's Day, the woman who founded Mother's Day, Anna Jarvis, actually spent the last years of her life fighting against its commercialization. In the short nine years that it had existed, for Anna, the day lost its meaning. Obviously, she lost her fight against the day's commercialization; today Mother's Day has become one of the most financially successful U.S. holidays. The 500 carnations (her mother's favorite flower) that Anna delivered to that original service started a tradition that saw Americans spend close to 2 billion dollars on flowers for Mother's Day last year alone. Two billion dollars on flowers! In an extremely ironic end to her life, it is said that Anna died penniless in a nursing home, her final bills paid for by the Florist's Exchange.

Make something, bake something, cook something or recycle something - moms want to honor Mother Earth on Mother's Day too.

Adding insult to injury, that two billion dollars on flowers is not only an ostentatious show of commercialism, but the cut flower industry, with approximately 80 percent of cut flowers being imported into the US, contributes to a serious overuse of pesticides. Because flowers are considered a "non-edible," the restrictions for pesticide use are not as stringent as they are for food items. This amounts to significant problems for human and animal health and as well as water, soil and air. They are especially harmful to the workers who have to apply them; there are even signs of secondary pesticide exposure for the family members who live with these farm workers (think second hand smoke).

The same interest in transitioning industrial acreage to sustainable food farming, we should also think about transitioning the floriculture industries in the U.S. and abroad. Many companies and third party certifiers are working to improve worker protection and reduce dependence on pesticides. There are other things you could buy to celebrate your mom, but if you're buying her flowers this weekend (yes, Johnny-come-latelies, Mother's Day is this Sunday!) it is important to seek out these more sustainable options. The major labels to look for are - USDA Organic, Veriflora, TransFair USA and Sierra Eco.

Local, sustainable and/or organic flowers are possible to find, so start looking! And remember the more locally you can purchase them, the better.

Where to get local, sustainable and/or organic flowers?

  • Farmers' markets (Find one near you at EatWellGuide.org)
  • Farms/farm stands
  • Your yard, a neighborhood lot, a friend's or family member's garden

Online options for flower delivery?

Why are conventionally-raised flowers so problematic?

  1. Flowers classified as non-edibles have fewer restrictions than edibles and are often heavily sprayed with toxic chemicals. This residue is still on the flowers when they are purchased.
  2. Pesticides used on conventional flowers cause health problems for the workers and farmers - including skin rashes, respiratory problems, eye problems, infertility and links to cancer.
  3. Communities near non-organic flower farms can be contaminated.
  4. Pesticides used in conventional flower production poison groundwater and soil.
  5. Wild animals that feed near conventional flower farms can be poisoned.
  6. The high demand for water strains local aquifers.
  7. Workers can be subjected to extremely long work weeks in high seasons.
  8. The floriculture industry in the US is one of the heaviest users of pesticides.
  9. The pesticides used are highly toxic to bees.
  10. Methyl bromide is being phased out elsewhere, but the floriculture industry has won repeated exemptions to the Montreal Protocol, the landmark treaty phasing out substances that deplete the ozone layer.
  11. Flower miles! Approximately 85 percent of the most common fresh cut flowers - roses, carnations and chrysanthemums are imported, mostly from South America. A total of 79 percent of US flowers are imported from another country.
  12. Imported flowers are mainly checked for pests, not pesticide residue. If they have pests during importation they can be fumigated even further.

And don't forget that there are other options for Mother's Day. Make something, bake something, cook something or recycle something - moms want to honor Mother Earth on Mother's Day too.

Five alternatives to flowers:

  1. Make her dinner (or take her out to a sustainable restaurant).
  2. Treat her to an organic spa day (or some fraction thereof - moms like massages!).
  3. Tickets to a live performance, museum or botanic garden.
  4. Clean her house! Or some other type of service.
  5. Donate in her name. Moms are generous, they like that kind of stuff.

Mother's Day may be commercialized beyond the point of no return, but with a little effort, you can honor your mom in a way that would make poor Anna Jarvis smile.

This post was originally published in May 2012.