It should come as no surprise that the largest flower auction on the planet belongs to the Dutch, who are synonymous with the notion of the blooming flora industry.
Known as “the Wall Street of flowers,” FloraHolland is the largest floral trader in the world. It has been around since 1911. Not only that, it is one of the largest auction houses of any kind in the world. They process flowers from 8,000 nurseries around the world and sell them to distributers at the Aalsmeer and Eelde warehouse, who in turn put bouquets into the hands of customers.
Every day, approximately 20 million flowers from all over the world are sold off in this monolithic 243-acre building in a fast-paced, computerized auction. Buyers can either sit at terminals in the actual auction house to place their bids, or do it remotely from their offices. They used to roll the lots of flowers out for the bidders to see (and smell) but those days have given way to the less romantic but more practical method of showing photographs of the wares on the terminals, and leaving the actual goods in the freezers to keep them fresh. The Dutch style of bidding starts with the highest price, and then steadily drops, until someone’s itchy finger hits the buzzer and secures the lot. A little like a high-stress game show, this is the center point of 60% of the world’s cut flower market.
Its warehouse measures over 200 soccer fields in size. Workers move about the cavernous space via electric carts and aerial tramways. Sunflowers, daisies, roses, of course tulips, and various other blossoms are stacked on giant rolling shelves, creating a colorful patchwork meadow when viewed from above.
Perhaps because flowers are such an ephemeral, decorative luxury, it might seem odd that there is such a high-stakes industry supporting them. These are supposed to be the things of poetry, not spreadsheets and conference meetings! But FloraHolland balances both the romantic nature of flowers with the busy industry surrounding them. The company’s copy is peppered with slogans like, “Where beauty meets business,” and, “Flowering the world, planting seeds of opportunity…” Though flowers are sentimental, selling them has to be done quickly–they won’t last forever, after all.
Despite its struggles with the changing market, the auction is still a fantastic place to visit, with the automated system of tracks and trolleys that move the product around, the tension of the buy, the thousands of beautiful blooms, and just the sheer size of the place. If you can get up early enough, you can visit the center and watch the action from a special gallery that puts you right in the middle of all the action.
Know Before You Go
Easily accessible by Amsterdam city bus #172 and very near Schipol Airport.