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US orchid imports have surged to an all-time high

Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, visits a Dutch flower grower. They are surrounded by orchids.
Anthura/Handout via REUTERS
Bloomin’ beautiful
  • Amanda Shendruk
By Amanda Shendruk

Visual journalist

Published Last updated

Orchids were once only known as the highlight of posh plant shows and grand hotel lobbies. Increasingly, however, the stereotypically finicky, humidity-loving flowers have become an affordable grocery-store commodity and a staple of middle-class households in the US.

There’s a reason they’re everywhere. The US began importing large numbers of live orchids relatively recently. In 1996, the US imported just 223,165 kg (492,000 lbs) of the plants. Imports have grown steadily since. The Census Bureau announced today that US live orchid imports hit an all-time high in 2021, totaling 10.1 million kg—a surge of 64% from 2020.

These data include all types of live orchids, not only Phalaenopsis, or moth orchids, which are the most common commercial variety, and most likely to pop up at your local shop.

Where do US orchids come from?

The vast majority of US orchid plants come from Taiwan.

In 2021, the US brought in 6.7 million kg of live orchids from the country. That’s an increase of 1.7 million kg from 2020.

The US Department of Agriculture only allows the import of potted Phalaenopsis orchids from 113 companies in Taiwan, 12 in China, and four in South Korea. This means the businesses can sell directly to US retailers. All other moth orchid imports arrive to the US bare rooted, making them more likely to die before being potted in the US and reaching a consumer.

In 2021, the customs value alone for those 6.7 million kg of orchids was over $77 million. Generally, customs values are the merchandise price when it was sold for export to the US, but excludes things like import duties, freight cost, and insurance.

Perhaps surprisingly for a traditionally tropical plant, the US imports the next largest amount—both in weight and value—from its northern neighbor Canada.

Since 2010, Taiwan has consistently provided over 80% of the live orchids imported into the US, by weight. In 2017, that portion reached 89%. In 2021, however, consumer demand was so high that, even though Taiwan increased its exports to the US, the country ultimately supplied only 66% of live orchids.

Correction: Customs values exclude import duties, freight cost, and insurance. An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated that the customs value included those costs.

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