The Origin of Flowers: The Royal Flora Holland Auction

From the locations of the largest stock exchange in the world, not far from Amsterdam, deliveries are handled every day and the prices of flowers sold all over the world are established.

L’origine dei fiori: l’asta Royal Flora Holland

The flower auction that takes the name of Royal Flora Holland dates back to 1910 when it was conceived in two pubs in Aalsmeer, a small town near Amsterdam. At that time, the flowers being auctioned were kept in a single shed. Today, the total space dedicated to it is over 20 million square meters and it has entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest commercial building in the world.

All cut flowers and ornamental plants produced in the Netherlands and most of the flowers reserved for export produced in Europe and half the world are concentrated in Alsmeer and three other branches. Every day 20 million flowers arrive here from all over the world : while the majority of flowers sold are produced in the Netherlands, many more come from faraway places such as Ecuador, Colombia, Ethiopia and Kenya. The major exporters are Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, France and Belgium; among the main importers are Kenya, Ethiopia, Israel, Belgium and Germany.

Logistics flower auction Royal Flora Holland, ph. © Royal Flora Holland

The trading of nature

The flowers transported on refrigerated trucks arrive the evening before the auction, around 10pm, and are then stored overnight in cold storage. The auction begins early in the morning: after having been carefully examined, the flowers, arranged in baskets - as many as there are types of flowers and different producers - by means of a conveyor belt, are led into a similar room to a theater where hundreds of intermediaries connected with the main global operators are presented. An electronic time clock follows the price of the product until the first buyer presses the button to win the offer: a real Stock Exchange of raw materials. In the late afternoon, all the flowers are moved out to prepare the warehouse for the next shift.


Royal Flora Holland flower assortment, ph.© Royal Flora Holland

A sustainable market?

Entering the world of Royal Flora Holland and attending the flower auction is an alienating experience, perhaps due to the symbolic and romantic value that it is attributed to them and that hardly lends itself to association with issues more akin to the world of Wall Street and finance. It seems almost incredible to think that a flower can leave Imperia, arrive in Holland, be purchased by an intermediary and then return to Italy, by the final customer.
In 2019 the artist Armin Linke who investigates the natural, technological and urban environment in which we live, presented the important exhibition " The Paradox of the Anthropocene " in Matera, transferring the common message of safeguarding aimed at the whole humanity . Over the years Linke has documented places and realities closely connected to the environmental theme, including the flower auction site in Aalsmeer, questioning the often paradoxical relationship that exists between science, economics and political institutions in the era of climate change.

The Aalsmeer Flower Auction is an extremely important economic activity for the global floral industry, but its environmental sustainability is a topic of growing concern. The long transport chain of fresh flowers and the use of transport methods with a high environmental impact are some of the issues to consider. At meeo, we are committed to offering a sustainable alternative, using preserved and dried flowers that last a long time and are imported in a slow mode of transport which reduces the environmental impact. We want to join the reflection of art and science on how we can make a difference for a sustainable future.