I am not saying that every supermarket in South Africa is like this. But Pick 'n Pay at Constantia Village is. That's the shopping center a few minutes' drive from my parents' house, where all grocery purchases are made. The flowers at the entrance to this giant supermarket are mind blowing; more so - for me, the American - because the indigenous fynbos that covers the local mountains is so well represented. So I snapped some pictures, the last time I was there.
Protea grandiceps, I think. These flowers are farmed, not picked from the wild. I am told by someone who knows that every bunch unsold in the store by a certain date is returned to the farmers, their loss. Punitive. At Woolworths, the rival, more upscale supermarket around the corner in the same center, bunches that are returned to the store for any reason by the customer, warrant a R500 ($50) fine for the grower. So no one's messing around.
For us, the innocent consumers (my tongue is so firmly in my cheek, NO consumer is innocent) there is a floral party platter.
Pagoda flower, Mimetes cucullatus. Cape sugarbirds love these, and we have seen them perched on the shrubs in the wild, long tails streaming in the stiff wind that howls down the summer mountain.
Above, possibly Protea neriifolia.
Pincushions consorting with goldenrod (Solidago - American) and an Australian imposter - the white woolly one. Does anyone know its name?
Sweet little posies of blushing brides - Serrurea florida. Probably the first member of the Proteaceae family I could recognize when I was little.
There are also tuberoses and Eremurus and fragrant stocks and snapdragons and arum lilies. There is the usual assortment, too. Day in, day out Chrysanthemums. Inca lilies. But for a New Yorker who pants for flowers in the wilderness of Harlem, where you'll find tired red roses sandwiched with baby's breath, or sickly sunflowers, or blue Chrysanthemums, this was like being dropped into a deep, clear, cool pool of them.
(Digression: Look at one of the prices hanging from the ceiling, by the way: R20 - $2 - for 5 avocadoes. I get excited when I see 4 avocadoes advertized for $5! And on the subject of shopping differences, every cashier is seated on a swivel chair. It is highly unusual to find a cashier anywhere having to stand for their work day, as they do Stateside. I stopped shopping with relish at Sahadi's after realizing that one of the cashiers, heavily pregnant, was required to stand for her entire shift!).
There is the flip side to flowers. The flower trade itself. The chemicals. The loads and loads of fertilizers and pesticides. The working conditions. Massive air and carbon miles, for many of them (not so much for what is pictured here, which is grown locally). The pretty flowers we buy often come at high environmental cost (seek out The 50 Mile Bouquet, a wonderful book, which explains the alternative, beautifully).
Flowers are a complicated, complicated business. I do not know if the fynbos flower industry is any different and whether, in their natural habitat, fynbos can produce flowers with less synthetic intervention. I like to think so. Maybe I'll investigate further.
It's hard to balance my ooh-ing and ah-ing with enough information to know what and why to buy. But when I am in Cape Town, I buy beautiful fynbos.