sympathy's floral evolution

Metropolitan florists in each region of the country share how their funeral and memorial requests have changed.
  by Kelsey E. Smith

     Placing flowers around the deceased is the oldest form of human ritual, believed to have occurred as early as 62,000 years ago in the Shanidar Cave in what is now northern Iraq. However, as burial traditions evolve, so do the ways in which flowers are used.

     The Cremation Association of North America (CANA) estimates 36 percent of deaths in the United States resulted in cremation in 2008, the last year for which statistics are available. That’s compared to 26 percent in 2000, and the association predicts nearly 59 percent of deaths will be cremated by 2025.

     This trend, along with tribute personalization and the constant battle of the “In lieu of flowers...” wording in obituaries, are some of the issues and concepts today’s florists face. With a nod to regional differences in the sympathy market, we asked four florists in different areas of the United States to share their observations and experiences regarding today’s tributes.

steadfast traditions and urning potential

Perhaps not surprisingly, due to the deep-rooted traditions and religious customs in the region in which they’re located, the five states with the lowest cremation rates all are in the “Bible Belt” of the southeastern United States. In the heart of this region, Mississippi has the lowest cremation rate, accounting for only 11 percent of deaths.
     Robert Whitley, owner of Whitley’s Flowers in Jackson, Miss., says that although cremations have risen slightly over the past decade, traditional funeral services still reign in his area, predominantly due to strong Christian customs. Cremation flowers account for only about 5 percent to 10 percent of sympathy services for the family-owned business, which opened in 1947.

     In Nevada, the state with the highest percentage of cremations—nearly 70 percent—Mike Fiannaca, vice president of Sparks Florist, in Reno and Sparks, says floral arrangements for cremations account for at least 25 percent of the stores’ sympathy business, and that figure is growing rapidly. “Cremations have become very popular, and customers often say it is an attempt to control costs,” he explains. “This has resulted in an increase in urn arrangements and picture adornments.”

An increase in cremation rates across the country still presents an opportunity for flowers. Here, an urn is the focal point of a tribute design from Sparks Florist.

... To read more look to the August 2010 issue of Florists' Review.

Contact Kelsey Smith at or (800) 367-4708.

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