Agriculture specialists near Los Angeles International Airport are combing through millions of Mother’s Day flowers entering the United States from overseas, checking the classic displays of affection for insects and disease.
Unwanted pests that hide inside a bouquet on a dining room table could throw the country’s entire agriculture industry out of whack by damaging crops.
Naveeda Mirza manages a refrigerated room at the Gourmet Logistics facility near L.A. International. This building’s the first point of entry for thousands of flower shipments.
Mirza’s inspectors use magnifying lenses and other tools to check for creepy crawlers the naked eye is likely to miss.
“They look at the leaves, underneath the leaves, underneath the calyx, shake the flowers," Mirza explains, "and then they have little needles [and] brushes so they can poke the insect if they’re pretending to be dead.”
Specialist Hugo Rodriguez examines some orchids he suspects could carry a disease, noting some black specks on the stems.
“All I do is I find the blemishes," says Rodriguez. "It’s either a spore on the leaf and then we turn it into the USDA. The pathologist will make the final determination of whether it’s a viable disease or not.”
On a shipment of roses from Ecuador, his co-worker Robin Marten found mites.
“You could see the little legs and the body but it’s still like, very, very small..." says Marten. "You’ll need a microscope to actually identify what species it is and what type it is.”
On a typical day last year, specialists caught hundreds of potentially damaging pests. When that happens, the exporter has three options: fumigate the flowers, re-export them or destroy them.