Mimeo. Report 58-3
A JATdenimnrfu Repft
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
TABLE OF CONTENTS
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
A PRELIMINARY REPORT ON MARKETING
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.
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
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
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
Value of Sales
Percent of Total
aPerlod from July 1955 through June 1956.
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
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
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
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
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.
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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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
from marketing of these two products in 1955-56 amounted to $150,000 and
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.
Exp. Sta., Ag.Ec. 800