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Living Lightly: Say it with Wildlife-Friendly Flowers

© William H. Mullins / Accent Alaska

© Ian Britton
Many people know about the health and environmental benefits of buying organic produce, but far fewer probably realize that those fresh flowers given to a sweetheart or mom likely came at a hefty cost to wildlife. 

Every year Americans spend some $20 billion on cut flowers, many that are produced with the heavy use of chemicals, which can wash off into waterways, kill fish and work their way up the food chain.

One study found as many as 127 different pesticides in flowers from Colombia, including highly toxic chemicals banned in the United States. Similar serious pesticide problems have been documented in Kenya, which has developed an enormous cut flower industry. Numerous studies have also linked pesticides to serious health problems among flower workers, some of whom are exposed to upward of 100 types of pesticides on the job.

But the market for organic flowers is growing, and a third-party certification program called VeriFlora now guarantees that flowers stamped with its seal are sustainable and labor-friendly. Though still a small part of the total U.S. flower market, the Organic Trade Association says that sales of “green” flowers have increased by as much as 50 percent a year in the last decade.

That’s something to think about next time you feel like brightening up someone’s day with a bouquet.

Speaking of Pesticides: 

The market for organic flowers is growing, and a third-party certification program called VeriFlora now guarantees that flowers stamped with its seal are sustainable and labor-friendly.

Defenders helped salmon and steelhead trout get over one hurdle in the Pacific Northwest, where pesticides from fields, orchards and lawns wash into fish streams and either kill them directly or interfere with their ability to navigate back to their home streams to spawn. After intervening in a court case, where pesticide manufacturers sought to overturn federal protections that mandated no-spray buffer zones next to streams to catch pesticide-laden runoff, a federal judge rejected the challenge. 
“Pesticides are deadly by design,” says Jason Rylander, Defenders’ senior attorney. 
“We need to keep these contaminants out of our waterways.”

Finding pesticide-free 
flowers is easy: 

  • Search for “organic flowers” online. 
  • Urge your supermarket to sell organic flowers—or buy from them if they already do.
  • Buy certified flowers from your local florist or ask them to sell local flowers to cut gas-guzzling flights from South America. 
  • Frequent local farmers’ markets—often they are on the leading edge of environmentally sound practices.
  • Give organic seeds for planting instead.

Wild Inspirations

What inspires you to 
help wildlife?

Defenders member Sharon Latif from Somers, Conn., says: 

Many years ago I hit a coyote that ran into the road. I actually wrapped him in a blanket and put him in one of my horse stalls. Not very smart, I know. But I had to do it. The man I called to take the coyote told me what he did and how he helped. The next week I was taking the test to become a wildlife rehabilitator, and I have never looked back.

What do you do in your daily life to protect wildlife? 
Write to us at and your idea and photo could be featured on this page in a future issue.

More Articles from Spring 2012

Conservationists rush to save a bird on the brink
"Once again, Defenders will make stopping any anti-ESA legislation that emerges our highest priority." - Jamie Rappaport Clark, President, Defenders of Wildlife
When it comes to endangered Mexican gray wolves in the Southwest every one counts—and so do partnerships.
Defenders strives to lessen the deaths caused by commercial fisheries.
Trying to keep wildlife safe in the midst of large-scale solar projects in the West.
Big Cypress teems with wildlife and is a refuge for the critically endangered Florida panther. But the roads here make it a dangerous place for the big cats, with vehicle collisions one of the leading causes of death.
With their expressive faces and soft, furry bodies, sea otters exude charisma. But when it comes to survival, cute and cuddly doesn’t always cut it.
Outrunning off-road vehicles on Cape Hatteras; Feds help Idaho officials kill wolves.

You may also be interested in:

In the Magazine
The call for permanent protection continues in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, where offshore drilling threatens wildlife and a way of life.
Where We Work
The Golden state is home to millions of wild birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and fish that need our help.
Where We Work
Alaska remains one of the last pristine wilderness areas in the country. Defenders of Wildlife is committed to keeping it that way.