In writing about plant-dealer-turned-thief John Laroche, who was arrested for stealing rare orchids in south Florida, author Susan Orlean said she had “glimpsed true passion for the first time in her life.”
While free of the drama that fills Orlean’s book The Orchid Thief, Bob Fuchs, owner of R.F. Orchids in Homestead understands the passion.
“I always had a love for orchids as a child,” Fuchs says. “I put my first orchid display in the Miami International Orchid Show in 1959 and won second place.”
More than 50 years later, Fuchs is still winning awards and collecting accolades, including being named Miami-Dade County Agriculturist of the Year in 2001 and being inducted into the Florida Agriculture Hall of Fame.
“I attribute my success to my passion for this incredible plant family,” Fuchs says. “I am very fortunate to have shared the same passion for orchids as my grandfather and father.”
In a sense, Fuch’s success mirrors that of the state’s in terms of plant production. Florida is one of the leading states in environmental horticulture plant products, ranked second only to California. Environmental horticulture includes landscape plants, flowers, foliage, turfgrass and related landscape services. This segment of the industry is the fastest growing in the state, and that’s good news. Plant nurseries and greenhouses are good for the economy, generating $1.6 billion in cash receipts in 2013.
E. Vanessa Campoverde, commercial horticulture agent for the University of Florida Extension/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS), cites one of the more obvious reasons for the industry’s growth.
“Location, location, location. Florida’s unique geographical position allows for a long growing season and to grow a wide range of horticultural crops including beautiful ornamental plants that are able to be produced from the panhandle all the way to exotic Miami agricultural lands, thanks to the warm weather that Florida possesses almost year-round,” Campoverde says.
“As we specialize in warm-growing orchid plants, for use in both greenhouse and landscaping, the Florida weather is a great asset,” he says. “To make Florida growing successful, it’s important to have the knowledge to match the plants to the climate and location.”
The Business of Blooms
Having a favorable climate can also play against Florida’s horticulture industry, which is constantly threatened by invasive pests from which FDACS works to protect the agriculture industry. Other factors of concern include natural disasters such as hurricanes, which can easily wipe out growing operations, and affect the overall quality of ornamental plants.
“If you lose ornamental plants products due to any factor, this causes economic losses in the local, national or international markets,” Campoverde says.
The Florida horticulture industry’s strength is derived in large part from industry, the dedication of growers and resources of agencies like the University of Florida Extension. UF/IFAS has an extension office in each of the 67 counties across the state, where growers can go for industry updates, research-based information trainings and answers to their questions.
“Growers are avid entrepreneurs, they are not only decision makers, but are also on the lookout for new varieties, tendencies, market trends and sustainable growing practices to keep their businesses flourishing,” she says. “But [continuing] education and training is required for any industry wishing to thrive.”