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1. Introduction

Cultivation of flowers for various religious and cultural festivals has existed in Sri Lanka for ages. It was only after the British rule that floriculture really came into practice not as an industry but mainly as a hobby for pleasure. Later, with many new introductions of tropical and sub tropical plants the trend was gradually passed down to other levels of society.

Floriculture in Sri Lanka started as an industry in 1970. It has grown substantially during the last few years to become one of Sri Lanka's major foreign exchange generating ventures.

2. Present Situation of Cut Flower Production

Western, North Western and Central Provinces in Sri Lanka are the major areas where cut flowers are grown commercially. Cut flowers grown in the country can be divided into two main categories based on their temperature requirements i.e. Temperate Cut Flowers and Tropical Cut Flowers.

Temperate Cut Flowers: Temperate cut flowers include carnation, rose, statice, gypsophyla, alstroemeria, chrysanthemum, lilies and irises. Among them, carnations and roses are grown mainly for export, in the highlands of the Central Province of Sri Lanka. Carnations are produced entirely from imported planting materials and are graded according to internationally accepted specifications for export. The other species are commercially grown mainly for the local market.

American and Mediterranean carnation cultivars are quite famous in the world market. Pink, white, red, yellow and salmon colours are much popular. Novelties such as striped and frosted types are also becoming increasingly popular. American cultivars grown are silvery pink, karina, barbara, red barron, elsy, royalette, bagatalle, bianca and adelfie. Mediterranean cultivars grown are nora barlo, shainah, lena, castellaro, scania, tanga, roma, pallas and charmeur. Carnations are grown in poly tunnels, covering more than 10 hectares, under fully protected environments.

Roses are second to carnations and production is limited to about 40,000 blossoms per annum. This is mainly due to the highly expert conditions required for cultivation and production. Approximately 2-3 hectares of area have so far been used for cultivation of roses. Roses for the export market are grown under controlled environments in poly tunnels. Popular colours are highly variable. They are generally required in a mix and an acceptable mix would consist of red-50%, Pink-30%, yellow-10% and others 10%. Roses are quite popular in the local market also. Most of them are supplied by small scale growers.

Tropical Cut Flowers: Anthuriums and Orchids are the most popular tropical cut flowers which are being grown commercially for exports as well as for the local market. Anthuriums can be grown at elevations up to 1500 metres above sea level, with texture and the flossiness remarkably enhanced with increase in elevation. Annual production of anthuriums is around 3 million flowers, the majority of which are sold at the local market. The exports of Anthuriums at present are not very significant. A land area of approximately 10 hectares is under Anthurium cultivation at present and the industry is expanding steadily at village level. Almost all plantations are either under poly tunnels or structures with shade netting. However, locally available materials are also used under certain conditions to provide required shade levels. The standard trade types in the world market are the "Avo" lines i.e. Avo Nette, Avo Ingrid, Avo Anneke. The improved standard types e.g. Germa, Cuba, Fuego, Favoriet etc. are also popular. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Peradeniya, being the pioneer institution for the development of cut flower industry in Sri Lanka has produced a few promising Anthurium varieties with export potential. Some of these varieties are being closely studied and mass propagation has just been started. A few of the slected varieties are: RBG - Green Tip, RBG - Soft Sheen, RBG - kandy queen, RBG - Gardens Pride, RBG - Royal Flag, RBG - Lak Isuru, RBG - Wild Beauty, RBG - Krishnas Red.

Tropical Orchids can be grown under warm humid conditions up to 500 metres above sea level. Climatic conditions in the Western Province are quite favourable for cultivation of Dendrobiums, Vandas and Phalaenopsis types which are quite popular in the local and foreign markets. Approximately 3-4 hectares of land are under Orchid cultivation at present and the industry is gradually developing to cater to export markets. Almost all cultivations are under shade netting and the majority of growers have developed mist irrigation techniques. ‘Madam Pompadour’ (Pink and White), and ‘Rena Vapahoo’ (Pink and White) hybrids are some of the popular hybrid Dendrobiums in the market. Hybrids of Arachnis, Oncidiums, Phalaenopsis and Dendrobiums are being exported in smaller quantities and the income earned is not very significant.

Gerberas are becoming popular among growers due to the availability of a wide range of long lasting cultivars produced by many modern breeding methods and tissue culture. These cultivars can be broadly categorised into three classes, namely Singles (such as ‘Fleur’ and ‘Apple Blossom’), Doubles (such as ‘Marleen’ and ‘Hildegard’), and Black Centres (such as ‘Fabio’ and ‘Rosseta’). Pink, salmon, orange, red and yellow are the popular colours in the market. Trials have already been started under controlled environments by private entrepreneurs to grow gerberas for the export market. About 2 hectares of land is so far being used for gerberas.

Grower Categories and Specialities

Generally, large scale commercial establishments also have their cultivations under green house conditions, poly tunnels or netting. The medium and small scale growers either have their cultivations under natural shading (under trees) or use locally available materials such as coir fibre mats, cajans (dried and woven coconut palm leaves) or ropes to provide shade requirements of a particular crop.

Sri Lanka's floriculture industry consists of three categories of producers or growers a) large commercial ventures for export; b) middle level growers catering to the local market; and, c) village level producers who may sell their products to either of the two categories mentioned above.

The total land area under floriculture is around 500 hectares at present and the majority of lands are in the Western Province. There are 10 ha under carnations, 3 ha under roses, 2 ha under gerberas, 10 ha under anthuriums, 3 ha under orchids and 472 ha under foliage plants. These figures clearly show that the floriculture trend so far in Sri Lanka has been in favour of foliage plants.

The majority of large scale commercial growers produce plants in collaboration with foreign partners. Technology is shared by these partners and highly advanced methods of production are followed. However, most of these ventures are involved in the production of ornamental foliage plants and very few are involved in the production of cut flowers. Middle level and village level growers usually go in for low cost cultivation with minimum advanced techniques, sticking to conventional methods. The majority of these growers are the ones who produce cut flowers. Therefore, most of the cut flowers produced are used to satisfy the local needs and only the surplus is exported occasionally in small amounts. The exception is the production of carnations which are grown mainly for the export market. However, export oriented cut flower ventures are on the increase.

3. Production of Planting Material

Flower seeds of many flowering annuals such as asters, petunias, impatiens, phlox and verbenas are produced mainly for export under fully controlled green house conditions. A small part of this production is released to the local market at regular intervals. The bulk of floriculture planting materials exported are in the form of stem cuttings rooted or unrooted. A very small amount of bulbs, corms and tubers are exported to specific customers abroad.

Large tissue culture units are few in number. However, at present, six commercial tissue culture units are operational. One of these laboratories specialises in the production of cut flower anthurium plants through tissue culture. This venture is of recent origin and produces large quantities of anthurium plants now popular in the world market. Four of these laboratories are attached to large commercial, export oriented nurseries involved mainly in ornamental foliage plants and to a lesser extent cut flowers. The sixth of these laboratories is exclusively for the production of orchids for export.

There are a few middle level orchid growers who own mini-laboratories for the production of orchid seedlings and other ornamental plants for village growers.

4. Marketing

Thus far the cut flower market in Sri Lanka has not been able to create Auction Centres as many other countries have done. Retail outlets scattered through the production areas are the popular centres where cut flowers are sold. There are few growers who have created cooperative systems to sell their products.

Exporting of cut flowers is done by a few societies which have a selected group of partners and farmers. In many instances the agents are sent to villages to collect flowers from farmers directly. Exports of floriculture products from Sri Lanka are shown in Table 1. Main export markets are Europe (72%), and Far East and Middle East (28%).

Table 1. Export of Floriculture Products from Sri Lanka (1990-1995)


Value (Million Rupees)







Bulbs, Corms, Tubers







Live Plants







Cut Flowers







Cut Foliage







Total Rs. Million







5. Potential for Cut Flower Production Development

Sri Lanka's stable and varied tropical climatic conditions and the geographic terrains from sea level up to 2200 metres of humid mounts have created magnificent macro and micro environments to house many thousands of local as well as sub-tropical and temperate plants. The rich native flora contains many potential ornamental plants which could be developed to satisfy the demands of the flourishing industry.

Sri Lanka has a favourable location to serve different markets in the world. Availability of land and the high literacy rate of the average person would be an added benefit to those who wish to invest in the industry. In addition, the tax benefits and BOI incentives granted by the government would help bring in more investors to the country and facilitate further development of the existing industry.

Furthermore, the new policy framework prepared by the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands has clearly identified the need to initiate a Floriculture Research and Development Programme. This programme will cover many areas such as agronomy, pathology, entomology, mutation, breeding, post harvest and mass propagation to support the industry.

6. Constraints in Cut Flower Production Development

The following are the major constraints being faced by the majority of growers:

a) Inadequacy and high cost of air cargo: Air Lanka, the national carrier has always given priority to perishable cargo. However, the available capacity is not sufficient.

b) Lack of facilities for research and development: So far only the Royal Botanic Garden, Peradeniya has been involved in providing assistance by and large to the middle and village level growers, but this is negligible when compared to the ever increasing demands of the industry.

c) Lack of trained personnel: The floriculture industry requires trained personnel at each level of production. Education programmes from schools up to University level and training institutes to conduct courses on high-tech practical skills in floriculture are essential for the development of the industry.

d) Big initial investment on farms: Duty free facilities for import of vital items not produced in Sri Lanka such as shade nets, uv stabilised polythene, irrigation and fertilising systems etc. would help to promote the industry.

e) Lack of improved systems of marketing: Lack of proper or organised systems for marketing and inadequacy of current international market information on prices, trends, volumes and data on competitive countries etc, severely affect the development of the industry.

f) The uneconomical size of floriculture industry: Difficulty in acquiring suitable land and lack of infrastructure facilities also adversely affect the industry.

g) Lack of information on pesticides: Current information on pesticides and their acceptance in various countries is essential.

h) Phytosanitary clearance: Phytosanitary inspection just prior to shipment are inconvenient and expensive, besides leaving no time to rectify any problems.

7. Conclusions

Floriculture has a great potential in Sri Lanka even though the existing market share is less than 0.2% of the world market at present. Interest in the cut flower industry is encouraging and many investors, both local and foreign, have started their nurseries to cater to the expanding market.

A comparison of the world trend and the production figures of Sri Lanka clearly show that we are not in line with the world trend. However, this situation will soon change with the new policy changes taking place in the country. The Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, Export Development Board and various Floricultural Associations of the country have got together to discuss various issues in this regard and progress so far is very encouraging. Steps should, however, be taken to encourage floriculture research to cater to the special needs of the existing industry and to facilitate long term research programmes to explore the rich flora of the country to develop novelties to satisfy the growing market.

The Government should take immediate steps to alleviate constraints mentioned above and to create an Institute or a Centre for Floriculture Research and Development. This could be a semi-governmental Centre or an Institute partially supported from the growers annual income.

[8] Superintendent, Royal Botanic Gardens, Peradeniya, Sri Lanka.

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