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Blood, sweat and tears of love // Florists are hustling to deliver rosy holiday

Nobody wants Valentine's Day flowers delivered Feb. 15. So florists across the country will work late tonight - bleary-eyed, fingers taped to protect against knife blades, tucking in an extra daisy here, rustling up a last-minute bouquet there.

Valentine's Day is the biggest single day for flower deliveries in the country, said Marvella Crabb, of the Society of American Florists, an Alexandria, Va.-based trade association of flower growers, wholesalers and retailers.

The organization estimates that 70-million roses alone will be sold for the Valentine's holiday, 80 percent of them red. Pink and yellow tie for second.

Florists' Transworld Delivery Association - better known as FTD - is expecting to take 600,000 wire orders, a spokeswoman said.

Although florists sell more flowers around Christmas and Mother's Day, those flowers can be delivered over several days.

But for Valentine's Day, "Everybody wants them on one day," Ms. Crabb said, "and it's a perishable product."

Local florists began getting ready for the holiday during the weekend - readying containers, hiring extra delivery drivers, preparing the extra flowers and greenery.

"It's a zoo," Sandy Jessup-Moyer, owner of Cindy's Flowers in Port Richey, said Monday. "Cupid is up to his ears in flowers."

"You have picked a very bad time," said a woman who answered the telephone for Bird of Paradise Florist in Spring Hill and soon hung up.

Many florists will have only four or five hours of sleep tonight.

Ms. Jessup-Moyer said the staff of Cindy's Flowers used to work the entire night but gave that up because they got cranky.

"We stretch ourselves to the limit," said Stephen Arruda, who with his wife, Martha, owns Friendly Florist Shoppe in Clearwater.

The couple installed a second cash register and planned to put up a canopy outside, hoping to keep last-minute shoppers out from under the feet of florists inside.

"Your adrenaline starts flowing, and you can do superhuman things," said Jo Onks, manager of Countryside Florist in Clearwater.

Although a dozen red roses are the classic sweethearts' gesture, they aren't the best deal.

"We try to steer our customers toward other flowers because of the cost," said Lu Cushing, manager of Janie Beane Florist in Largo.

Local florists were quoting prices between $50 and $75 for a Valentine's bouquet of 12 red roses, delivered. During other times of the year they can be had for $35 or $40, they said.

"For $60 they can buy two to three nice arrangements," Cushing said. "So why not buy flowers every month for three months?"

"To be perfectly honest with you, they are the worst quality" this time of year, Ms. Hires said. "I wish people would realize that roses are not the only way to express their feelings."

She recommends spring flowers, such as tulips, hyacinths or daffodils.

Michael Pearson, owner of Always Anthuriums in Tampa, said he sells roses but also a lot of long-lasting red anthuriums. The waxy-petaled flowers from Hawaii are heart-shaped with a prominent anther.

Despite such pitches, many florists predicted they wouldn't have a red rose left by Wednesday's end.

"We don't have any trouble getting rid of them," said Lee Dupree, an owner of Bachelor Button Flowers in Tampa. "It's amazing. You would think they would back off. But we cater to a client that the price doesn't seem to affect."

Prices up

A dozen delivered roses cost $50 to $75 this week - $15 to $35 higher than other times of the year. Marvella Crabb, of the Society of American Florists, explains why: Growing roses costs more in the winter because of greenhouse heating costs.

The rose supply is still rebuilding from big Christmas sales.

Growers, wholesalers and retailers often must pay staffs overtime to accommodate the one-day Valentine's rush.

Millions of smaller rosebuds must be discarded early in the Valentine's growing process to produce the big long-stemmed roses customers crave. Cutting them off the stalk during the early growing stages lets the rosebush concentrate nutrients to the one bud. During normal times, the market for the smaller roses keeps pace with the long-stemmed market.