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Research aims to boost state's floral industry
By Charmain Tan Courcelle
VERONA -- Research at the North Mississippi Research and Extension Center may one day extend the shelf life of floral arrangements purchased in Mississippi.
Crofton Sloan, horticulturist with the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, is searching for flower species and cultivars that may be used to establish a cut-flower industry in Mississippi. A local source could mean fresher blooms in the state's florist shops.
The Society of American Florists estimates 2000 retail sales for floriculture items at more than $15 billion. Sloan said he hopes his research will help bring a share of this market to Mississippi.
"A lot of flowers are bought and sold in Mississippi, but few are grown here," Sloan said. "We're not going to be able to grow everything, but what we want to know is what can be grown in Mississippi successfully that will be acceptable to the market."
This past summer, Sloan evaluated three flower genera -- or families -- that he selected based on information from seed companies and other universities in the South. He tracked the growth performance of sunflowers, celosia and zinnias in field production, which was chosen over greenhouse production to minimize the expense of greenhouse construction and maintenance.
The field-produced flowers were of good quality and performed well in Mississippi's hot weather conditions, but Sloan said he needed to know whether they would also fare well in the cut-flower industry. To determine industry response, he worked closely with wholesale and retail florists in Lee County.
"The initial feedback we received indicated that the sunflowers we produced are of good quality, although we do need to work on color and petal count. The celosia also got a good response from florists," Sloan said. "The third type of flower we grew, zinnias, enjoyed good demand at farmers' markets from consumers, but not too much interest from florists."
Sloan will use input from the industry to further refine his list of candidate flower types and to find the best flower varieties that can be grown in Mississippi at the quality and quantity required by florists. This fall and spring, he will evaluate snapdragons, delphiniums, larkspur and Asiatic lilies for growth in Mississippi climates and for their marketability.
"Mississippi has mild falls and springs; we'd like to see if we can take advantage of that by extending the flower-growing season," Sloan said.
Sloan noted that Mississippi growers' also could have a local advantage in regional and statewide flower markets from reduced transportation costs and increased shelf life.
"Cut-flower production is probably not for the large-scale producer, but for the vegetable, nursery or orchard operator, it could provide a supplemental income and an opportunity to diversify," Sloan said.