Colombia dominates the U.S. cut-flower market, sending us $500 million of blooms last year. By that measure, Japan, with just $200,000 in exports to the United States, is but a tiny bud. But thanks to its flowers' stunning quality and a marketing push by the company Bloom Japan, that's changing — imports from the country have more than tripled over the past two years. "The product from Japan has really upped the ante," says Lauren Page of wholesaler G. Page in New York. "The flowers are 6 inches taller and last for weeks."
Take the Paphiopedilum Sato Green, a slipper orchid bred at Sato Orchid Farm on subtropical Shikoku. "Paph production elsewhere is systematic," says Bloom Japan CEO Yutaka Shirakawa. "There's no special care for each plant." On Shikoku, orchids like the Sato Green are grown on small family farms. The price of that TLC? This specimen retails for up to $40 per bloom. But it'll make a gorgeous Mother's Day corsage and last three weeks — enough to impress Page: "I'm wilted," she says, "after a plane ride."
A version of this article appeared in the May 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine.