Title: Preliminary report on marketing Florida ferns
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Title: Preliminary report on marketing Florida ferns
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Publisher: Department of Agricultural Economics, Florida Agricultural Experiment Stations, University of Florida
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Full Text
Agricultural Economics
Mimeo. Report 58-3

October 1957

A JATdenimnrfu Repft

On mtketvg.

F.lo-&Ada F.uL"

Cecil N. Smith, Donald L. Brooke,
Tze-l. Chiang and Daniel D. Badger

Monthly Pattern of Fern Shipments from a Leading Shipping Point in Volusia County, 1949

Department of Agricultural Economics
Florida Agricultural Experiment Stations
University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida


Introduction. ....... .

Nature of the Product ........ 2

Purpose and Method of Study . ... 3

Acreage and Production . ..... 4

Sales Value and Prices ..... 7

Market Outlets . . 9

Transportation and Distribution . . 13

Some Marketing Problems of the Plumosus

Fern Industry . . . .. 13

Other Fern Crops ............ 16

Summary .... .. ... .... 17



Cecil N. Smith 2 Donald L. Brooke 2
Tze-l. Chiang3 and Daniel D.Badger


Since the turn of the century the production and marketing of ferns in

Florida have been an integral part of the state's agriculture. The industry has

grown from a small number of producers until today some 400 growers earn all

or a portion of their income from the sale of ferns.

As in most sectors of our economy, change has characterized the fern

industry. Some growers have found it profitable to expand their operations

while others have reduced their plantings because of better alternative eco-

nomic opportunities or for other reasons.

Florida fern products, once a major source of greens used in floral

designs, have had increasing competition from other greens. These competing

products include wild ferns, huckleberry and salal from the Pacific Northwest;

'The research on which this report is based was supported in part by
funds appropriated under the Bankhead-Jones Act (AMA, Title I!).
Appreciation is expressed by the authors to the many fern growers who
provided the data on which this report is based. Thanks are also due a number
of their co-workers at the University of Florida who read the manuscript and
made many constructive suggestions.
Associate Agricultural Economist.

3Research Assistant.

4Former Field Assistant.



tropical foliage from Hawaii; and holly, laurel, magnolia, smilax, podo-

carpus and other products from the Southeast and elsewhere. Several greens

from Mexico, commonly known in the floral trade as "jade" and "emerald,"

have also found their way in increasing volume into American markets during

the past few years.

This report is concerned mostly with an analysis of the marketing

practices and problems of Asparagus plumosus fern growers.

Nature of the Product

The major product of the fern industry, Asparagus plumosus nanus,5

is not a true fern but belongs to the lily family. It, along with Asparagus

springerii fern, is of the same genus as edible asparagus. Both of these pro-

ducts are commonly referred to as "ferns." Asparagus plumosus is the major

commodity grown by the fern industry. Leather leaf fern, Polystichum adi-

antiforme, is a true fern which has had increased plantings in recent years.

Initially, production of plumosus ferns in Florida was in lath houses.

Built of cypress, these structures were designed to provide partial shade for

the growing plants. In recent years, as the cost of building and maintaining

slot houses has increased, a high proportion of fern plantings has been made

under natural shade. Most such plantings are in lowland hammocks under

live oak trees; however, some fern plantings under natural shade are on

high ground. Many growers have planted trees in their lath houses in order

Generally referred to hereafter as plumosus or plumosus fern.


to transform slat shade into natural shade. Although the ferns planted under

natural shade do not yield as many sprays per acre as those produced in lath

houses, the former are reported to be of higher quality. Production costs are

usually also lower since the high initial cost and the annual maintenance cost

of lath houses are no longer necessary.

From 30,000 to 44,000 fern plants are set per acre.6 Ferneries may

remain in production for 20 years or more without replacement. Sprays, or

runners, of fern are cut by hand and normally packaged into bunches of 50.

In some cases the ferns are taken to packinghouses to be graded but most often

they are bunched "field-run" as they are cut. In either event, after reaching

the packinghouse, the ferns are usually placed in shipping containers which

hold from 1,000 to 2,000 sprays. Packages of 500 and 3,000 sprays are used

less frequently. Blocks of ice wrapped in newspaper are placed in shipping

containers for cooling the ferns and to provide moisture for them during


Purpose and Method of Study

The purpose of this report is to provide information on the acreage,

quantity sold, value of sales, marketing channels and other economic aspects

of the fern industry in Florida. The research on which this report is based was

done as a part of the Agricultural Experiment Stations project on the marketing

practices of Florida flower and nursery producers.

6William J. Platt, Jr. Asparagus Fem Culture, Florida Agricultural
Extension Service Bulletin 153, December 1952, p. 5.


A sample of approximately 60 plumosus growers was selected for inter-

viewing during the summer of 1956. Growers were classified into three groups:

(1) small--less than 10 acres; (2) medium--10 19.9 acres; and (3) large--20

acres and over. The data from individual Interviews with growers were supple-

mented by data from transportation agencies and firms associated with the fern

industry. Data were also obtained from all known producers of springerii and

leather leaf ferns.

Estimates of the production and value of sales of plumosus were made

for the state as a whole. In certain cases these data are listed for individual

counties. However, in some instances where such procedure would provide

information on the business practices of an individual grower or in areas where

only a small percentage of the growers were selected for interviewing, county

estimates were not made.

Acreage and Production

Information obtained from county agricultural agents, fern growers and

other sources indicated the acreage of plumosus ferns in Florida during 1956 to

be more than 2, 000 acres. A breakdown of data on the plumosus fern industry

by counties with respect to number of growers, acreage and total production is

noted in Table 1. Volusia County accounted for more than 75 percent of the

growers and for more than 60 percent of the acreage and production of plumosus.

The average production per acre was estimated to be 184,702 sprays. Consid-

erable variation was noted in the production per acre in various counties. Many


Table 1.--Number of Growers and Estimated Acreage and Production
of Asparagus Plumosus Ferns in Florida, 1955-56a

Number Number Number of Sprays Percent
County of of of Total
Growers Acres Total Average Production
per acre

Volusia 309 1,350b 243,003,263 180,002 63.5

Lake 42 313 67,118,329 214,436 17.6

Seminole 4 114 26,740,866 234,569 7.0

Putnam 21 129 20,715,409 160,585 5.4

Marion 5 84 9,187,373 109,373 2.4

Brevard 3 28 6,241,936 222,926 1.6

Palm Beach 10 23 4,294,904 186,735 1.1

Others 6 31 5,402,094 174,261 1.4
Total 400 2,072 382,704,174 184,703 100.0

production data for the
June 1956.
bEstimated acreage from

12-month period from July 1955 through

best data available.

cHillsborough, Duval, Madison and St. Lucie.

factors combined to bring about these relationships. Among them are size of

fernery, efficiency of management, type shade (lath or natural), time in pro-

duction and others.

An estimate of production was also made by grower size groups. Because

of the small number within certain size groups in some of the counties, these


data cannot be shown by grower size groups for each county. The breakdown

by size groups for growers in all counties combined is given in Table 2. It is

noted that small growers accounted for 86 percent of the number of growers

and for more than 47 percent of the plumosus fern acreage.

Table 2.--Number of Growers and Estimated Acreage and Production of
Asparagus Plumosus Fern by Grower Size Groups in Florida,

Growers Acres Production in Num-
Size Group ber of Sprays
Number Percent Number Percent
of Total of Total Total Per Acre

Small (Less than 10 Acres) 345 86.2 985 47.5 186,010,907 188,844

Medium (10 19.9' Acres) 31 7.8 368 17.8 78,839,101 214,237

Large (20 Acres and Over) 24 6.0 719 34.7 117,854,166 163,914

All Growers 400 100.0 2,072 100.0 382,704,174 184,703

period from July 1955 through June 1956.

From the standpoint of efficient production, or the rate of production

per acre, medium-sized growers, on the average, had higher yields than those

in the other two classifications. Large growers generally had a smaller rate of

output of ferns per acre than those in the other two size groups. Several reasons

are believed to account for this relationship. A high proportion of the acreage

of ferns grown by large producers is under natural shade. Yields of plumosus

grown under natural shade are usually lower than for those grown under lath.


Small growers, on the other hand, have a relatively small proportion of their

production under natural shade. Many small growers often have other employ-

ment in addition to operating their ferneries and are probably unable to devote

full time to their fern businesses. Itwould also appear that the medium-sized

operators, on the average, are able to supervise their operations more effec-

tively than many of the larger growers.

Production of plumosus ferns is carried on throughout the year. Ship-

ments are heaviest in the spring with peaks occurring at Easter and Memorial

Day (see figure on front cover); they slecken off during the summer. Many

home grown greens are then available and supplies of ferns and other com-

mercially grown greens are usually in excess supply. Many social events--

the major occasion for using flowers and greenery aside from weddings and

funerals--are not held with the same degree of frequency in the summer as in

other seasons of the year. Although ferns are available for market, many

Florida producers ship only a portion of their potential supply during the

summer. Plumosus ferns, although ready for harvesting, may be left in the

fernery for several weeks with no appreciable damage. Ferns which are not

harvested for sale are usually mowed in order to facilitate the growth of a new


Sales Value and Prices

The value of sales of Asparagus plumosus ferns grown in Florida during

the twelve month period from July 1955 through June 1956 amounted to more


than $3,500,000 (Table 3). The average price received by growers before

deductions for containers and other packing charges was $9.19 per 1,000 sprays.

Small growers reported an average price of $8.89, medium-sized growers $9.36

and large growers $9.54 per 1,000 sprays. Several reasons may be offered as

an explanation for the higher average prices reported by the large growers. One

is their practice of selling a high proportion of ferns directly to retail florists.

Such sales are usually in small lots and command higher prices than ferns sold

to other outlets. Quality may well be another factor. The ability bf large

growers to provide continuous supplies to their buyers has doubtless resulted in

more favorable prices for their products.

Table 3.--Estimated Value of Sales of Asparagus Piumosus Ferns by
Grower Size Groups inFlorida, 1955-56a

Number of Average Return Per Value of
Size Group Sprays 1,000 Spraysb Sales

Dollars Dollars -
Small 186,010,907 8.89 1,653,637

Medium 78,839,101 9.36 737,934

Large 117,854,166 9.54 1,124,329

All Growers 382,704,174 9.19 3,515,900

period from July 1955 through June 1956.

bGross prices for ferns in packed containers after deducting transporta-
tion and commission (if any) charges, but including charges for packing and


The estimated total value of plumosus fern sales in the industry's four

leading counties is noted in Table 4. Nearly 94 percent of the total receipts

of the industry from the sale of plumosus ferns accrued to growers in Volusia,

Lake, Seminole and Putnam Counties.

Table 4.--Estimated Total Value of Sales of Asparagus Plumosus Ferns,
Major Producing Counties in Florida, 1955-560






Other Counties


* Dollars






Value of Sales

Percent of Total
0 62.2

6 17.9

3 8.8

7 4.9

4 6.2

0 100.0

aPerlod from July 1955 through June 1956.

Market Outlets

The three major outlets for plumosus ferns were: (1) consignment to

wholesale commission florists, (2) f.o.b, shipping point sales to wholesale

florists and (3) f.o.b. shipping point sales to retail florists. A few sales were

made to other growers and to local buyers.

Of all fern sales made by the industry, approximately 30 percent were

- 10-

sold on consignment to wholesale commission florists. More than 40 percent

were marketed to wholesale florists on an f.o.b. shipping point basis. Retail

florists purchased a fourth of the total on an f.o.b. shipping point basis. Nearly

three percent of all sales of plumosus ferns were made initially to other growers.

The volume and proportion sold through various outlets are noted in

Tables 5 and 6. Several relationships stand out in these two tables. It can be

seen that, whereas more than a third of the ferns marketed by small and medium-

sized growers were sold on consignment, only a fifth of the ferns marketed by

the large growers were sold by this method. :The retail florist outlet was more

important for the large grower group than for the small and medium-sized ones.

The medium-sized growers sold over half their ferns directly to wholesale

florists, a proportion not equaled by either of the other two groups.

Although less than one percent of the sales of large and medium-sized

plumosus growers were made to local buyers, more than five percent of the

ferns marketed by small growers were made locally. Most local buyers are

fern growers who purchase additional supplies to supplement.their own ferns

in filling orders. A grower may have large orders at a time when, because of

a freeze or for some other reason, his own cut is insufficient to meet his market

demand. Growers who sell ferns locally may often have no other outlet for

their supplies. A large number of local sales are in the nature of accommo-

dations to help neighboring growers fill their orders.

Prices:-- The average prices received for plumosus fern sales made

-11 -

Table 5. --Estimated Sales of Asparagus Plumosus Ferns Made by
Florida Growers to Various Sales Outlets, 1955-56a

Size Group Consignment to Direct to Direct to Other All
WholesaleFlorists Whalesale -Retail Growers Sales
Florists Florists

1,000 Sprays -
Small 65,457 64,732 45,982 9,840 186,011

Medium 29,084 41,044 8,530 181 78, 839

Large 23,960 51,950 41,520 424 117,854

All Growers 118,501 157,726 96,032 10,445 382,704

OPeriod from July 1955 through June 1956.

Table 6.--Proportion of Estimated Ouantity of Asparagus Plumosus
Fern Sold by Florida Growers to Various Sales Outlets,


Size Group Consignment to Direct to Direct to Other All
Wholesale Florists Wholesale Retail Growers Sales
Florists Florists
Percent of Total -
Small 35.2 34.8 24.7 5.3 100.0

Medium 36.9 52.1 10.8 0.2 100.0

Large 20.3 44.1 35.2 0.4 100.0

All Growers 31.0 41.2 25.1 2.7 100.0

period from July 1955 through June 1956.

- 12 -

through various outlets are noted in Table 7. Returns to growers were highest

for ferns which were sold directly to retail florists. Consignment prices (after

paying shipping and commission charges) for ferns shipped by the small and

medium-sized groups were higher than the average consignment prices received

by large growers. They also exceeded the average price received, by large

growers for plumosus sold to wholesale florists on an f.o.b. basis. Prices received

for ferns sold to other growers were lower than for those sold to distant outlets;

often packing, hauling, handling and other services were not performed, thereby

reducing the costs of marketing in connection with such sales.

Table 7.--Estimated Average Pricesa per 1,000 Sprays Received by
Florida Asparagus Plumosus Growers in Marketing Their
Ferns, 1955-56b

Size Group Consignment Direct to Direct to Other All
to Wholesale Wholesale Retail Growers Sales
Florists Florists Florists

Dollars per 1,000 Sprays -

Small 9.18 8.68 9.57 5.22 8.89

Medium 9.51 9.17 9.81 5.00 9.36

Large 8.02 8.96 11.18 7.00 9.54

All Growers 9.04 8.90 10.27 5.29 9.19

aGross prices for ferns in packed containers (except in some cases, sales
to other growers) after deducting transportation and commission charges, if any,
but including charges for packing and containers.

bPeriod from June 1955 through July 1956.

-13 -

Transportation and Distribution

Transportation: -- The principal means of transporting Florida ferns to

market is by railway express. Growers interviewed estimated that almost 97

percent of their ferns were shipped by this mode of transportation. Air express

was the next most important method of transportation, accounting for about two

percent of all shipments. About one percent of the ferns were moved by trucks,

parcel post and buses.

Distribution: --An analysis of the distribution of ferns from a leading

shipping point in Volusia County during August, 19f5 showed that 45 percent

went to buyers in the Southeast. Thirty-one percent were shipped to the North-

east and 16 percent to the Midwest. Buyers in the Southwest and the Far West

together received only four percent and Canadian buyers took three percent of

all shipments.

Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Tennessee, Massachusetts and Alabama

each were destinations for more than five percent of all shipments made from

the shipping location studied during August, 1956. Georgia, New York,

Florida, Ohio and Illinois were other major receiving states.

Some Marketing Problems of the Plumosus Fern Industry

The final buyer who purchases plumosus ferns before they are made up

into bouquets and other arrangements is usually the retail florist. Florists

utilize ferns in combination with cut flowers and other materials in making

floral designs. Only a limited amount of ferns is sold by wholesalers to

- 14 -

buyers other than retail florists.

Plumosus ferns have the advantage of being one of the most economical

greens that florists can use. Nevertheless, available information indicates that

a large proportion of florists have developed preferences for other types of

greenery and thus utilize fewer plumosus ferns than in the past. Many florists

also complain about the tendency of plumosus ferns to shatter. As a result,

they tend to limit their use to situations where shattering will be least objectionable.

Asparagus plumosus fern, if good care is exercised in harvesting, handling,

packing and shipping by growers and shippers, has a relatively long storage life.

More emphasis by the fern industry on adequate care of the product by growers

and shippers as well as by wholesale and retail florists should be beneficial to

all fern growers.

As noted previously, new types of greenery which compete with plumosus

fern are coming to market in increasing quantities. The information at hand

indicates that their appearance has been accompanied by a decline in the demand

for plumosus.

The handlers and shippers of many of these competing products have

active advertising and promotion programs to increase the use of their greens.

Designers are sponsored at florists' conventions and design schools by many of

the firms handling greens which compete with ferns. The use of plumosus ferns

has been de-emphasized by many of these promotional devices. Although it is

extremely difficult to evaluate the economic effect of advertising and promotion

with any degree of exactness, many businesses feel that, even to retain their


current share of the market, it is necessary to advertise in order to keep their

products before the attention of current and potential customers.

The means for an industry comprised of a large number of independent

operators to cooperate in sponsoring a program to improve their economic well-

being can be very complex. Usually there is no magic formula which will offer

a solution. Industry groups with common problems have found it very advan-

tageous to form organizations to study their problems and act to improve their

economic well-being. The growing number of such organizations would seem

to indicate that they perform a useful service.

It was noted earlier that one of the main problems of the plumosus fern

industry is that of combatting a declining demand for its product. Changing

unfavorable buyer preferences is no easy task. As one phase of a plan to

accomplish this end, it may prove desirable to organize a continuous program

of public relations to stimulate increased use of ferns by the retail florist

industry as well as to explore other market outlets which might be developed.

The name plumosuss" could be kept constantly before retail florists and other

buyers through advertising, participation in florists'conventions, etc. Such a

program could be organized on an informal cooperative basis or possibly in a

number of other ways. An effort to impro-;e grower marketing practices would

need to be an integral part of a program designed to promote ferns at the retail

florist and other market levels. Factors to be considered in improving grower

marketing practices are raising quality through grading, handling so as to cool

the ferns properly in packing and during transit and others. There is no doubt

- 16 -

that such a program would be costly; nevertheless, it would appear that the

benefits to be reaped would exceed the costs.

The available evidence indicates that the fern market would benefit from

price stability if the practice of wildcattingg" ferns, i.e., shipping excess

supplies to wholesale commission florists, often with no prior agreement or author-

ization to do so, were to be stopped. The ferns shipped in this way may not be

sold, both the wildcattingg" shipper and regular suppliers lose and the entire

fern industry suffers from this practice. Frequently growers who have orders

for f.o.b. sales to wholesale and retail markets have- them cancelled

during such periods of market oversupply. Shipping to a receiver only when there

is an express agreement on the consignee's part to receive the ferns would do

much toward stabilizing the market for ferns.

Other Fern Crops

Leather leaf ferns were reported as being grown by some 25 producers

on approximately 42 acres of land. Growers reported a total production of

about 7,350,000 sprays. Total income from the sale of leather leaf ferns was

estimated at approximately $150,000.

Eight growers reported some 20 acres planted to springerii ferns. Total

production exceeded two million sprays. The value of sales of springerii ferns

was estimated at about $25,000.

-17 -


More than 2,000 acres of land are devoted to the culture of Asparagus

plumosus ferns. Of this total, some 1,350 acres are in Volusia, the leading

county in fern production. Other major counties are Lake, Seminole, Putnam

and Marion. Ferns have been grown in Florida since about the turn of the

twentieth century. Acreage has stabilized somewhat during the past 10 years.

The average production per acre in the period from July 1955 through

June 1956 was 185, 000 sprays. Production per acre is greater under lath sheds

than under natural shade. Plumosus ferns are produced and marketed throughout

the year.

Returns from the sale of plumosus ferns brought a gross income of more

than $3,500,000 to growers during the 1955-56 season. The average price

received per thousand sprays was $9.19.

More than 40 percent of all plumosus sales were made directly to whole-

sale florists on an f.o.b. shipping point basis. Wholesale commission florists

purchased 30 percent of all ferns sold, having had them shipped on consignment.

A fourth of all fern sales were made directly to retail florists on an f.o.b.

shipping point basis. Growers sold three percent of the total volume marketed to

local buyers (mostly other growers). Highest average prices were received for

sales made directly to retail florists.

In addition to plumosus ferns, it is estimated that 42 acres of leather leaf

fern and 20 acres of springerii fern ore produced in Florida. Income to farmers

-18 -

from marketing of these two products in 1955-56 amounted to $150,000 and

$25, 000,respectively.

Competition from other greens, a decline in demand and the failure of

the industry to work together toward the solution of its common problems have

placed plumosus fern growers in an unfavorable economic situation. It appears

that industry efforts to improve fern quality, to stop indiscriminate consignment

or "wildcat" shipping and to promote their product with the retail florist industry

would result in a better economic position for fern growers.

CNS:es 2/26/58
Exp. Sta., Ag.Ec. 800

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