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Where have all the flowers gone? Off on jet planes, every one.

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For many years I was single and lived in a large high-rise on Manhattan's Upper East Side. On Valentine's Day, so many bouquets would be jammed in the lobby by the time I got home from work that the doorman would be nearly camouflaged by petals.

But each year, as I stepped through the door, he'd pop out from behind his floral shield and eagerly check to see if one of these lovely bundles was addressed to me. If not – well, it was a disappointing moment for both of us, to say the least.

Now, as it happens, I'm married to a man who never – on any occasion – forgets to buy flowers. And yet, to paraphrase Joni Mitchell, I've seen flowers from both sides now and I remain a bit conflicted.

So, it turns out – although for far more sobering reasons – is Amy Stewart, author of Flower Confidential: The Good, The Bad, and the Beautiful in the Business of Flowers. On the one hand, Stewart, who is a garden writer (she writes for Organic Gardening magazine and the San Francisco Chronicle and writes a feisty garden blog at www.gardenrant.com), simply adores flowers.

"I've always had a generalized, smutty sort of lust for flowers," she confesses during an early morning stroll through the San Francisco flower market. "It almost didn't matter what they had for sale that day – I knew that I would want whatever they had. Wild poppies, hothouse roses, dime-store carnations – whatever it is, I'll take it."

But after reading Stewart's book about "floriculture" (that's what they're calling it these days), it's impossible not to cast a wider gaze on our innocent love of these beautiful things.

The flower industry is today a $40- billion business worldwide. Here in the United States we buy about 4 billion stems each year, spending a per capita average of about $25 per American. (Although that's actually peanuts compared with the Swiss, the world's most voracious consumers of flowers, who spend $100 annually.)

But even the $6.2 billion spent in the US on flowers each year doesn't necessarily mean that American flower growers are kept busy. One hundred years ago, almost all the cut flowers sold in the US were grown here. Today, however, about 78 percent of our floral purchases are imports, mostly coming from Latin America.

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