By Mandy Zuo, in Kunming, Yunnan
The crippling drought and the approach of next Monday's Ching Ming festival, when Chinese traditionally commemorate the dead, have driven flower prices sky high in Kunming , China's largest flower supplier.
Zhao Lei, who works at the Kunming International Flower Auction Centre (KIFA), said production of top quality flowers had been hit hard by the drought.
'Prices for class A and B carolas [red roses] have at least doubled compared with the same period last year,' he said. Because good quality flowers had stricter cultivation requirements, their supply was now half what it was last spring.
The prices of white flowers have climbed as Monday's festival draws near.
Xiaohui, a flower dealer at the Dounan Flower Market, Kunming's largest, could not hide his excitement when asked how business was going at present. 'At least 1,000 yuan (HK1,135) a day,' he exclaimed.
He deals in violets, which come in 12 different colours. The most expensive ones he sells are white, the colour of mourning in China. He said white violets usually sold for between two and three yuan a bunch (10 stems) but he was now selling them for between 14 and 15 yuan.
At the Lianmeng Shangyi Flower Market in central Kunming, white chrysanthemums have replaced red roses and pink lilies. Traders were busy tidying up chrysanthemums that had just arrived from farms in nearby Chenggong county, the major flower production base in Kunming.
A woman bundling white chrysanthemums in front of her stall said she expected prices to increase by 50per cent, from the usual 10 yuan to 15 yuan a bunch.
Known as 'The World's Garden', Yunnan produces more than 2,500 flower species and its flower industry is growing by 30 per cent a year. Kunming, the provincial capital, provides half of China's fresh-cut flowers.
KIFA was established in 2002 in an attempt to follow in the footsteps of the world's biggest flower producer, the Netherlands. It introduced a new flower trading system, suggesting a maximum price, where bidding starts, and a minimum for each species.
Buyers come from across the mainland and also overseas, including Japan, Korea, Singapore and Russia. According to KIFA's 2009 rose trading report, average prices and trading volumes increased by 13.2 per cent last year.
Zhao, the KIFA staff member, said weddings and Valentine's Day were the two occasions that consumed most of the fresh flowers in China.
But Valentine's Day had been exceptional this year because supply was tighter, he said.
The trading volume of roses in the first half of February dropped by nearly half compared with the same period last year - from four million yuan to two million yuan.
And unlike previous years, when prices slumped after Valentine's Day, they had remained steady this spring because of the drought. 'Even class C and D carolas are selling for 25 yuan a bunch. Not a low price at all,' Zhao said.