The Sweet Scent of Millions

Published 9 years ago

In the business of South African flowers the sweet scent of money emanates from plastic-covered greenhouses. It’s a gamble that takes three months to pay off, rewards run into millions. For flower growers across the country this is a journey that begins with getting your hands dirty. It could end with washing those hands with money. This is the story of flower growers Semperflora and the largest flower auction in South Africa, Mulitflora, a R380-million ($37 million)-a-year-business.

Thousands of flowers are planted in rows at the flower farm in the Magaliesburg, in the North West Province of South Africa. The mountainous region is chosen because it’s sheltered from the cold highveld winters and has good soil conditions.

With a few rented acres of land, some shade cloth and a few poles in 1986, Dutch-born Willem Slootweg and Cees Vooys began Semperflora. It is now the sixth largest flower grower in South Africa and on the verge of installing automatic climate control and water systems.

Shylet Ravenda

“We found out later that guys who just came from Europe and started up, most of them they didn’t make it because they knew nothing about the South African climate.”

Deep in the warehouse is a room with four gigantic clocks. At precisely 7AM, a bell beckons and flowers go on sale. The clocks count down in cash instead of time. Starting at a high price, the hand drops until a buyer, by pressing a button, stops the clock to bid for a crate of flowers. The auction can handle one transaction every four seconds.

Before senior auctioneer Tjaart Kilian started selling daisies, he worked for 20 years as a service technician in a laboratory. He says his passion for plants blossomed at home—through the cultivation of bonsai trees.

“First impressions are everything for a flower. When you are classifying flowers you are looking for consistency and for little variation in quality. You check the flower, you check the leaves, you check the stems. The size of the stem is a factor, if you hold a stem outward it must be able to carry the weight of the flower,” says Kilian.

Competition is on the rise. Supermarket chains are bypassing the auction process more and more and have started buying directly from growers.


The perfect flower crate will be given the letter C. Multiflora inspects sellers’ buds daily. Should your stems be below par, they are re-categorized and suffer the penalty of being sent to the back of the queue.

Flowers that aren’t bought are taken off the auction floor and shipped to a dumpster to be destroyed, this is because too many people resold the flowers when they were given away.