Alluring Roses From Africa

BY AWAKE! WRITER IN KENYA

“The most gorgeous flowers I have ever seen!” “The best present to give a dear friend.” “A way of saying, ‘Somebody cares.’”

PERHAPS you have sentiments similar to those expressed by the residents of Nairobi, Kenya, quoted above. Of all the flowering plants, including both those that grow wild and those cultivated by man, perhaps none has acquired more international acclaim than the rose. It has captured man’s imagination for centuries. Poets have written about it, while artists have often depicted it. Shakespeare extolled it with the famous line from Romeo and Juliet: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Thanks to the rose, new friendships have been established and cemented, strained relationships have been restored, and many a sick person has been encouraged.

In addition to all of that, the rose has great economic value. In many countries where climatic conditions favor flower farming, the rose is a major earner of foreign exchange. In Kenya, for example, out of the millions of flowers exported during one recent year, over 70 percent were roses, making the country one of the leading producers in the world.

In times past, before man discovered the flower’s alluring qualities, the rosebush grew freely in the wild. Today, through the use of carefully controlled methods of crossbreeding, some of the more than 100 species of wild roses have been bred to produce the thousands of varieties of roses known today. As a result, the flower has become known worldwide and is found in almost every country on earth. The most popular and widely cultivated is the hybrid tea rose.

 From the Farm to Your Vase

Most people buy their roses either from a florist or at a supermarket. These flowers are grown commercially on large farms and require much more attention than the backyard variety. A visit to one such farm located near Nairobi revealed to us the extra care that goes into preparing the flowers for market.

Here, as elsewhere in Kenya, elaborate polyethylene greenhouses readily identify the commercial rose farm. (See photo on page 26.) These structures serve several purposes. The newly grafted roses are delicate and require protection from harsh weather. Heavy rain, wind, or direct sunlight can wreak havoc on them. To maintain a constant temperature, it is necessary that cool air enter the greenhouse easily and hotter air be expelled.

Inside the greenhouses there are rows of young flowers in different stages of growth. At this farm several types of roses are cultivated, ranging from the popular hybrid tea rose, cut at a little longer than 27 inches [70 cm], to the 14-inch [35 cm]-long sweetheart rose, a particular type of hybrid tea rose. The two and a half acres [one hectare] here may contain up to 70,000 plants.

How do the plants receive their nutrients? Ordinary soil is not used. The flower bed is made up of pumice (volcanic rocks) laid on polyethylene sheets. This is a preferred method, as the rocks are free from many soilborne diseases. The drip-irrigation concept is employed to water the plants. In this method small pipes are directed to the flower bed, discharging the water and other nutrients in well-regulated quantities. Being porous, the volcanic material allows water to drain from the plastic bed. Then it is collected and reused.

Despite the specialized care provided, roses can become infected by a number of diseases, mainly caused by funguses. These include botrytis and powdery mildew, which attack the leaves and stems of the plants. Left unchecked, these diseases can adversely affect the flower quality.  Applying fungicides helps control the problem.

As time passes, some bright colors begin to show up, a clear indication that the roses are ready for harvesting. The flowers are carefully cut at the tight-bud stage. At this point the petals have yet to unfold. Harvesting at this time enhances the life span of the cut flowers as well as their color retention. However, the harvesting stage may vary slightly from variety to variety. It is vital to cut the flowers in either the morning or the late afternoon, when humidity is high and wilting is slower. Harvested flowers are then taken to the cold room for precooling. This too ensures that the roses remain fresh for a longer period of time.

The flowers will pass through another vital phase​—the grading stage. Here they are separated according to color and size. Packaging is done according to customer requirements. Finally, the flowers are ready for market. From this farm they are transported to the main airport in Nairobi, and from there they will be exported to Europe, thousands of miles away. Because they are highly perishable, the flowers should reach the market, local or international, within 24 hours of harvesting.

The next time you receive a bouquet of roses as a gift or buy them from a supermarket or a florist, pause and think of the long journey they may have made, possibly even from Africa. Possibly it will enhance your appreciation for the Creator, Jehovah God.​—Psalm 115:15.

[Box/​Pictures on page 26]

Will There Ever Be a Blue Rose?

The rose has come a long way, and its journey does not seem to have come to an end. Many new techniques of breeding and cultivation are being integrated into this industry. Few flowers can produce the different shades of color that roses do. Which color fascinates you the most? White, yellow, pink, dark crimson, or maroon? Most of these are the result of various methods of crossbreeding.

As an example, did you know that while people speak of “red” roses, true red flowers were originally absent from the rose family? The family lacks the gene that causes the red pigment. The bright-red color is a result of a genetic mutation about 1930, eventually resulting in the vibrant-red colors seen in roses today. In all rose varieties, one color was long missing​—blue. The gene for producing blue, delphinidin, does not occur naturally in the rose family. However, after years of joint research by an Australian company and a Japanese company, a “blue” rose was created in 2004 using genetic engineering. Further effort is needed, though, to achieve a bluer hue.

[Picture]

Polyethylene greenhouse

[Picture on page 25]

Ready for harvesting