EL PASO -- This time of year, fresh cut flowers are arriving at the border by the truckload, just in time for Valentine’s Day. But before all those flowers grown in warm, sunny countries become bouquets, they have to pass inspection.
“Like anything of agriculture, cut flowers carry diseases and insects,” said Katherine Vasquez, supervisor of agriculture inspections for Customs and Border Protection in El Paso.
In the cargo area after a recent shipment arrived, CBP inspectors took a close look at the flowers and greenery that filled a truck.
“We take and do some shaking, and then we see the insects,” said Luis Carlos Macias, a CBP agriculture specialist.
He shook the flowers he was holding by the stems over white paper.
“If you see something moving, pick it up,” said Macias, demonstrating the technique for spotting an insect.
Inspectors also use magnifying glasses to check for insects that might catch a ride across the border and pose a threat to plants or crops in the United States.
Starting in January, agricultural specialists are busy as bees until Feb. 14.
“It more than doubles,” said Vasquez of the amount of flowers crossing the border into El Paso this time of year.
During the same period last year, CBP agricultural specialists at border crossings, sea ports and airports nationwide examined 867.2 million cut flower stems, a three percent increase over the previous year.
They intercepted 1,715 pests during the Valentine's Day season.
Most of the flowers are grown in South America. Colombia is the top exporter, followed by Ecuador and then Mexico.
“These are precious,” said Isabel Guadarrama, an El Paso flower shop owner looking at piles of long stemmed roses in a truck.
She was so excited she met the shipment at the border.
“There’s a lot of variety and the roses come in 12 different colors,” said Guadarrama.
All the flowers were grown in southern Mexico in a region with a climate referred to as “eternal spring.”
Roses are her best sellers, but she also imports flowers used in bouquets for men, a Valentine’s Day practice in Mexico that she hopes catches on in the U.S.
“We’re beginning to show the ladies how to give flowers to men like in Mexico,” said Guadarrama. “It’s going very well.”