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3. CUT FLOWER PRODUCTION IN CHINA - Yang Xiaohan, Liu Guangshu and Zhu Lu[3]

1. Introduction

China’s cut flower industry began in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong in 1984. During the next 12 years, cut flower production grew steadily, and developed faster after 1990 (Fig. 1). The main reasons for this growth are: a) the consumption of cut flowers which has increased due to an increase in the standard of living and the rapid development of the tourist industry; and b) growers can gain relatively high profits from growing cut flowers. For example, the annual profit is US$18,750-65,625 per ha from cut flower cultivation, as compared to US$11,250 per ha from vegetable cultivation. Currently, cut flowers are grown almost all over the country, from Hainan in the South to Heilongjiang in the North, and from Shandong in the East to Xinjiang in the West. From a small start in 1987, commercial cut flower production in Yunnan Province grew at a higher speed than in any other area in China, moving this Province into number one position (Fig.2-4). There are more than 30 cut flower species which are commercially grown in China, including Alstroemeria aurantiaca, Anemone, Antirrhinum, Asparagus, Anthurium, Calendula officinalis, Calla, Callistephus chinensis, Carnation, Centaurea cyanus, Chimonanthus praecox, Chrysanthemum, Dianthus barbatus, Freesia, Gladiolus, Gypsophila, Gerbera, Heliconia, Hippeastrum, Lilium, Lisianthus, Limonium, Moluccella, Orchids, Peony, Pulsatilla chinensis, Prunus persica, Prunus mume, Ranunculus, Rose, Salix leucopithecia, Solidago, Sunflower, Tagetes patula, and Tulip. The growers can be divided into 5 categories: a) state farms or companies; b) collective farms; c) private farms; d) sino-foreign country joint ventures; e) foreign companies. Due to the nature of constantly expanding activities, it is difficult to obtain official statistical figures regarding China’s cut flower industry. The data shown in this paper only partially represent the real situation.

2. Present Situation of Cut Flower Production

In 1996, the production area under cut flowers was about 3,000 ha and the yield was 1.09 billion stems. The major areas where cut flowers are grown commercially are Yunnan, Shanghai, Sichuan, Zhejiang, Guangdong, and Beijing. The production-acreage in Yunnan, Shanghai, Zhejiang and Beijing accounts for about 50% of the total acreage in China (Fig. 3). The annual production of cut flowers in these four regions accounts for about 79% of the total production in the country (Fig. 4).

The top ten cut flower crops in China are rose, carnation, chrysanthemum, gladiolus, calla, gypsophila, anthurium, gerbera, lily and limonium. Roses are mainly grown in Beijing, Guangdong, Shanghai and Yunnan. In 1994 about 120 million stems of rose cut flowers were produced, accounting for about 17% of all cut flowers. In 1995 the production-acreage of rose cut flowers was 300 ha, of which 100 ha were unprotected, and the annual production increased up to 200 million stems, accounting for about 18% of all the cut flowers produced in the country. The major cultivars of rose cut flowers include Samantha, Red Success, Madelon, Kardinal, Carl Red, Dallas, Baccara, Rouge Meilland, Gabriella, Golden Emblem, Gold Medaillon, Golden Times, Gold Medale, Cocktail 80, Blami, Diplomat, Flamingo, Prima Donna, Sonia Meilland, Leading Lady, Bridal Pink, White Success, Tineke, Athena, Bridal White, Carte Blanche, Marina and Mercedes.

Carnation prevalently of the standard type, accounts for about 25% of all the cut flowers sold in the Beijing and Kunming wholesale markets. The production areas center in Yunnan and Shanghai. The major cultivars of carnation are from Israel, the Netherlands and Germany, such as Tasman, Francesco, Omaggio, Red Rimon, Presto, Ondina, Dona, Red Corso, Hermes, Pink Francesco, Pallas, Napoleon, Sugar Lee, Rimo and Camba. The spray carnations are not popular in China because of consumer’s preference for standard carnations.

Chrysanthemum accounts for about 20% of all the cut flowers sold in the Beijing and Kunming wholesale markets. The production areas are concentrated in Guangdong, Shanghai and Beijing. The major cultivars of chrysanthemum include late-spring-flowering, summer-flowering, autumn-flowering and early-winter-flowering cultivars. Most of them are standard chrysanthemums. At present the spray chrysanthemums are not popular in China because of consumer’s preference for standard chrysanthemums. Among various cultivars, yellow is the most appreciated color, followed by white and red.

Gypsophila accounts for about 20% of all the cut flowers sold in the Kunming wholesale market. The production areas are concentrated in Yunnan and Shanghai. There are semi-double and double cultivars with white flowers.

Gladiolus is mainly grown in Liaoning. There are 28 cultivars from Jining Province, 11 from Gansu Province, 11 from Hubei Province, 9 from Liaoning Province, and 26 from the Netherlands.

Lily is mainly grown in Gansu. The major cultivars of lily cut flowers include Navona, Acapulco, Elite, Lorina, Solemio, Pollyanna, Adelina, Akita, Her Grace, Jessica, Maremma, Amanda, Ankra, Apropas, Merostar, Wisdom, Snow Queen and White Satin. Gerbera is mainly grown in Yunnan and Shanghai. The major cultivars of Gerbera include Laurentius, Terranero, Michelle, Feugo, Shanghai, Estelle, Terramor, Clementine, Terraparva and Terratuba. Anthurium is mainly grown in Shenzhen and Beijing. The major cultivars of Anthurium include Alexia, Anneke, Candia, Gino, Gloria, Lydia, Margaretha, Mauricia, Nette and Rosetta. Calla is mainly grown in Shenzhen and Beijing. There are only white flower cultivars. Limonium is mainly grown in Yunnan, Sichuan, Guangdong and Beijing.

Cut flower production is year-round in various areas, and is usually under protected conditions except Hainan, Guangdong, Guangxi and Fujian where there are more cut flowers produced in open fields. The acreage of cut flower production under protected conditions is larger than that in open fields, but accurate data about the ratio of production between protected conditions and open fields are not available. Generally, during fall-spring, cut flowers are produced in greenhouses; and during spring-summer, they are produced out doors. Tunnels covered with plastic are widely used in growing cut flowers throughout the country. Modern greenhouses are also used, especially in Northern areas. In the last few years, new greenhouses and modern equipment have been introduced into China from Israel, the Netherlands and France.

In recent years, the growers in Beijing, Shanghai and Kunming have started using soiless culture and drip irrigation system to grow cut flowers. Controlled-release fertilizers have been used in Beijing for cut flower production. In the summer season, shade is widely used to reduce light to optimum levels for cut flower production. Artificial light has been applied by a limited number of growers in some regions such as Beijing and Shanghai to promote flowering of gladiolus, gypsophila, and lily during the winter, or to regulate flowering of chrysanthemum for year-round production. The technique of forcing bulbs at optimum temperatures is also practiced.

3. Production of Planting Material

Most of the cuttings, tissue culture plants and grafted planting material are produced in Shanghai, Yunnan, Beijing and Sichuan. Some of the propagation materials are virus-free. Although the companies in Liaoning, Jining, Beijing, Shanghai, Shaanxi and Shandong have produced some bulbs, most of the bulbs necessary for growing cut flowers in China are from the Netherlands.

The Beijing Flower Seedling Company which owns 5,000 square meters of glasshouse and 400 square meters of modern factory with tissue culture facilities, can produce 3 million plantlets every year, including rose, carnation, eustoma, chrysanthemum, lily, gerbera, etc. The North Star Garden Plants Company in Beijing can produce 1 million plants of anthurium, gerbera, Phalaenopsis amabilis and lily per year by means of tissue culture under automatically-controlled greenhouses (temperature and mist). Fifty thousand bulbs of lily are produced in Changping, Beijing, annually.

Each year, the Shanghai Floriculture Experimental Farm supplies 2.5 million carnation and gypsophila cuttings, gerbera plantlets and grafted rose plants, and 1.5 million bulbs of lily, gladiolus, iris and freesia. The Shanghai Sino-dutch Flower Co. Ltd. produces 1 million planting materials of gerbera and carnation annually.

Recently a newly-built company equipped with computer-controlled facilities has been established in Yunnan that can produce 30 million planting materials annually. Another newly-built company in Kunming has a production capacity of 10 million carnation cuttings.

A company in Liaoning Province supplies propagules year-round, including 11 million bulbs of gladiolus and 0.2 million bulbs of lily. A company in Sichuan Province has the capacity to produce 1.5 million bulbs and 1.2 million plantlets annually.

4. Marketing

More than 90% of the cut flowers produced in China are consumed within China. The cut flowers are sold through whole sale and retail distribution channels. At present, there are 670 cut flower markets and 7,000 flower shops across the country, and 7 regional whole sale markets which have been established in Beijing, Shanghai, Kunming, Guangzhou, Fujian, Chengdu and Liaoning. The major consumption areas are Shanghai, Beijing, Zhejiang and Guangdong. The majority of the flower shops are located in these areas (Table 1). In 1996, 260 million stems of cut flowers were consumed with about 20 stems per capita in Shanghai, and 100 million stems were consumed with about 10 stems per capita in Beijing.

It is inferred from the analysis of the whole-sale prices of rose, carnation, chrysanthemum and gladiolus in the Beijing and Kunming markets during the period from January 1996 to March 1997 (Fig. 5) that these cut flowers were cheaper during the period from May to October than during the period from November to April. It is also obvious that the average wholesale price in Beijing is higher than that in Kunming. Yunnan supplies fresh cut flowers to more than 20 other regions such as Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai.

Table 1. Flower Shop Distribution in China


Number of Flower Shops

% Total








































Other regions



The export of cut flowers to other countries mainly Hongkong, Japan, Singapore and Thailand, is very limited, less than 10% of all the production in China. In 1993, China exported cut flowers of about US$1 million. In 1994, Yunnan exported cut flowers of US$4 million. In 1996, Beijing exported cut flowers worth US$750,000 (about 3 million stems through the Beijing Flower Service Cooperation), and Kunming exported more than 18 million stems.

5. Potential for Cut Flower Production Development

China has an abundance of wild and garden plants which can be developed into cut flowers. For example, Lilac and Forsytia are good early-spring cut flowers, but they are used only as garden plants. There are rich plant germplasms (15 species) of peony in China. Recently, China and Australia have done joint research to develop cut flower cultivars and the related cultivation and postharvest techniques.

There exist three types of regions suited to growing cut flowers in China: a) Dalian in Liaoning Province, and Weihai and Qingdao in Shandong Province, where the climatic conditions are similar to those in the Netherlands, with a very short day and freezing weather in winter and a very long day and warm weather in summer. With the appropriate technologies, it is possible to produce in Dalian, Weihai and Qingdao all the cut flower crops which are grown in the Netherlands; b) the eternal spring region like Kunming in Yunnan Province and Xichang in Sichuan Province, where the climatic conditions are similar to those in the Bogota plain in Colombia, with about the same length of day and night, and cool nights and warm days almost without change throughout the year; with the appropriate technologies, it is possible to produce in the Kunming and Xichang region all the cut flowers which are grown in the Bogota plain; c) the tropical region like Hainan Province and Xishuangbana in Yunnan Province, where the climatic conditions are similar to those in the Caribbean Islands and Thailand, with about equal length of day and night throughout the year; with the appropriate technologies, it is possible to produce in the Hainan and Xishuangbana regions all the cut flowers which are grown in the Caribbean Islands and Thailand. These three types of regions give China a unique potential to produce commercially all the known cut flower crops throughout the year.

China has a growing strength of labour because of the agriculture modernization and the increase in population. Currently, there are about 100 million extra labourers from the rural areas which can be used for growing cut flowers. The cost of labour is very low compared to the developed countries.

Presently China produces 1.09 billion stems of cut flowers annually. This represents a consumption of about 1 cut flower per capita per year, a very low level compared to other countries. More than 1.2 billion people are living in China. An increase of one cut flower in per capita consumption means an increase of more than 1.2 billion stems in the China’s cut flower market. The people in China have a natural love for flowers, which is expressed by the care of gardens and public parks. We believe that with the improvements in the economic situation, the cut flower industry will expand rapidly.

Both the Yunnan and Guangdong Provincial Governments have evolved a series of policies to promote the development of cut flower industry. For example, Yunnan Provincial Government and local governments invested US$5 million in the cut flower industry annually in the last few years. They also reduced the cost of air freight and charged a low tax, only 2% of the gate value.

6. Constraints in Cut Flower Production Development

Production areas are concentrated in the rural environments, but the consumption is concentrated in the cities. There is little direct communication between growers and consumers.

Presently, the yield of cut flowers per square meter in only 50-80 stems in China, a very low level compared to other countries. The quality of most cut flowers produced in China is only equivalent to that of the third grade in the international markets. The main reasons for the low yield and poor quality are: a) lack of specific knowledge and technology; for example, most growers who originally grew vegetables still treat flower crops as vegetables, using the local soil as growing media and traditional methods of irrigation and fertilization; in most growing areas, the local soil is heavy, unsuitable for continuous cultivation under the regime of heavy fertigation which tends to destroy the soil structure; the mist and drip irrigation systems are seldom used. b) lack of financial source to modernize the cultivation facilities. c) lack of disease-free planting materials; in order to save money, many growers use recycled materials for propagation instead of buying commercial planting materials. d) lack of cool chain from grower to retailer; treatments by chemicals for increasing vase life is not practiced extensively; the quality of cut flowers produced in Yunnan is reduced after they are transported to other areas such as Beijing and Guangzhou; until now there has been no quality standards for plant materials and fresh cut flowers.

The supply of cut flowers is centered around spring and autumn seasons, but during the Chinese lunar calendar new year Spring Festival when the consumption is the highest in the year, the supply is the smallest.

China has not joined the international organization UPOV yet. Therefore, it is difficult for the Chinese cut flower industry to obtain the newest and best cultivars bred by the breeders in other countries. There is an urgent need to pass the Plant Breeders’ rights Law in China. This process has been started and China will have this law in the near future. This law is expected to promote investments in breeding efforts within China.

7. Conclusions

Cut flower production in China is being industrialized. The Chinese government has made “The Ninth Five-Year Plan from 1996-2000 and the Long-Term Objective Programme for 2010 for the improvement of cut flower production” as follows:

a) The annual cut flower production will reach 2 and 4 billion stems by the year 2000 and 2010, respectively, in the country.

b) The average per capita consumption in the urban areas will reach 10 stems by the year 2000.

c) Cut flower production will be concentrated in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong, Yunnan, Sichuan and Hebei.

d) The production of planting materials will be concentrated in Sichuan, Yunnan, Shanghai, Liaoning, Shaanxi and Gansu.

e) Modern cut flower trade centres will be built in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Kunming, Chengdu and Shenzhen.

f) Optimum-scale cut flower whole-sale markets will be built in metropolitan centres across the country.

Fig. 1. The commercial production of cut flowers in China during the period from 1984 to 1996.

Fig. 2. The production-acreage devoted to growing cut flowers in Yunnan Province during the period from 1987 to 1995.

Fig. 3. The production-area devoted to growing cut flowers in China during the period from 1987 to 1995.

Fig. 4. The commercial production of cut flowers in China in 1995.

Fig. 5. The wholesale prices of rose, carnation, chrysanthemum and gladiolus in Beijing and Kunming during the period from January 1996 to March 1997.

[3] Institute of Vegetables and Flowers, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Beijing 100081, P.R. China

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