Chinese New Year: Orchids still in supply, but others are scarce due to a lack of water 

click to enlarge Manager Eddie Phmah runs the Oakland Flower Mart in Old Oakland. The market delivers red and yellow gladiolas to the flower fair for the Chinese New Year. - GABRIELLE LURIE/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Gabrielle Lurie/Special to the S.F. Examiner
  • Manager Eddie Phmah runs the Oakland Flower Mart in Old Oakland. The market delivers red and yellow gladiolas to the flower fair for the Chinese New Year.
For several decades, flower suppliers have been delivering orchids and other living blooms symbolizing rebirth and new growth to The City’s Chinese New Year Flower Market Fair in Chinatown.

But the past year has seen the worst drought in California history intensify, and whether that has affected the availability and cost of the flowers depends on where they are coming from.

Continuing a practice since 1998, Half Moon Bay Orchids will bring a few hundred red, white, yellow, pink and striped orchids for the flower fair Feb. 14 to 15 on Grant Avenue from Clay Street to Broadway and Pacific Avenue, Washington and Jackson streets between Stockton and Kearny streets. Owner Jack Wu said the drought did not affect his orchids.

“The orchids don’t need as much water as other crop[s] and we have our own well and our own reservoir,” Wu said. “We are the only ones to grow orchids in California. Everybody else imports.”

Prices for his orchids go up every year, Wu said, due to general inflation. A potted orchid plant will sell for $8 to $25 based on its color and size, and can last for three to four months.

“Orchids are very popular. It lasts longer than any cut flower,” Wu said. “We know a lot of people want it and it’s why we participate every year.”

The drought has been harsher for Piazza Wholesale, a flower supplier with locations in San Francisco and Oakland. Eddie Phmah, manager of the Oakland branch, said the dry conditions have made some local varieties 10 to 15 percent more expensive, so Piazza will import most of its flowers.

While Piazza can get dendrobium orchids from Thailand, pincushion flowers from Hawaii, gladiolus and tuberose from Mexico and chrysanthemums from South America, where they are 30 percent cheaper, there are some varieties he might skip this year because he can only find them in California.

“Certain flowers, like the pussy willow, are local and we don’t know whether we will have them this year because some of the growers told us they dried up, so we don’t know how much they can give us this year,” Phmah said.

Other flowers he can only get from Half Moon Bay, Salinas or San Diego are quince flowers, plum flowers and perhaps gladiolus.

For Phmah, who has been selling flowers as part of The City’s Chinese New Year for a decade, participating is less about making a profit, which he says is “a little bit.” “The running costs are quite high so we always try to break even and have enough money to pay some friends that come to help,” he said. “We’ve been doing it for so many years, so we just keep doing it.”

Similarly, South Pacific Orchids, a Chinese family business for 20 years, makes the trip from Gilroy to sell flowers both days simply because it’s Chinese New Year.

About The Author

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong covers transportation, housing, and ethnic communities, among other topics, for the San Francisco Examiner. She covered City Hall as a fellow for the San Francisco Chronicle, night cops and courts for the San Antonio Express-News, general news for Spanish-language newspapers La Opinión and El Mensajero,... more
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