History of the Fern Industry in Florida
Florida's cut foliage industry started near the turn of the century, when growers of fern asparagus started shipping iced fern sprays by train to florists in the Northeast.
By the 1920s, a fern growers' association was organized and the City of Apopka adopted the slogan of "The Fern City." Growers sold millions of ferns to dime-store chains, which soon asked for other plants to sell also, launching the foliage industry. Although the fern growers' association closed in 1934, the foliage industry progressed as a contract grower-brokerage business.
By 1956, there were 2,072 acres of cut foliage production in Florida, with 65 percent of the acreage in Volusia County. Fern asparagus was the predominant crop. During the next 25 years, from 1956 to 1981, dramatic changes took place in the cut foliage industry. Production acreage increased 61 percent to 3,339 acres, with more than 90 percent of the acreage devoted to leatherleaf fern. While the acreage of cut foliage increased, the number of produces declined by 42 percent, from 400 growers in 1956 to 233 in 1981. Volusia County continued as the leading producer, followed by Putnam and Lake counties.
The shipping and marketing of cut foliage also changed during this period. Trucks replaced trains as the main transportation mode, and the development of sea containers and air freight enabled Florida growers to expand their market into Europe and Japan.
In 2002, there were 224 producers of leatherleaf ferns and other cut greens in Florida, with sales totaling $86.3 million. Florida continues as the national leader in sales of cut cultivated greens, producing nearly 78 percent of the value of all cut greens sold in 36 states surveyed.