Resendiz Brothers Protea Growers

There’s a new flower trend among brides, it seems. Diana Roy, business manager at Resendiz Brothers Protea Growers in Fallbrook, California, reports that orders are pouring in for King protea. It’s showing up in bridal magazines, bridal blogs, Pinterest, Instagram, and elsewhere, catching the eyes of brides who often carry a photo to their florist saying, “I don’t know what it is, but I want it.” The King protea (Protea cynaroides), a South African native, is a statement flower, with a single flower head diameter averaging eight inches. They are not cheap (up to $20 per stem from a wholesaler), but they have a three-week vase life and a single stem can make a big impact.

Diana is the marketing guru at Resendiz Brothers, but she is also a flower farmer herself. Ismael “Mel” Resendiz started Resendiz Brothers in 1999 when Zorro Protea Farm, where he had been farm manager for many years, closed in favor of real estate development. 

Mel knew Diana as a flower farmer who bought plants at Zorro, but also knew she had a background in corporate marketing, having worked for Marriott Corporate. He asked her to run the office full-time in 2001, and she’s been hard at work promoting protea and pincushions and other exotic flowers ever since.

A Family Affair

Resendiz Brothers farms 150 acres of its own property, and through various arrangements with neighboring farmers, produce their flowers on an additional 75 acres. In southern California, the only affordable land is often a steep hillside that would not otherwise be suitable for building homes or businesses. Resendiz Brothers has turned acres of undevelopable land into a floral paradise of exotic blooms. While mature protea plants are drought tolerant, all are on drip irrigation, and once established can be productive for 15 or more years.

Resendiz Brothers propagates these Australian and South African natives in greenhouses, then moves them to a nursery area where they grow in pots. It takes about 18 months for protea to go from propagation to field, and three years from propagation to harvestable production. The company also sells plants at the potted stage to landscapers and other commercial flower growers.

While flowers and foliage are harvested year-round, the peak season is November to May, when 25 to 30 workers are employed full-time. From summer to early fall, the staff is around 18, more than half of whom are family members of the four namesake Resendiz brothers: Mel, Porfirio, Raul, and Ramon. Finding seasonal labor is a challenge; the steep hillsides make for hard work. But more than labor, the greatest challenge facing even this drought-tolerant crop is the severe drought gripping southern California. Water is expensive and they have a lot of acres to irrigate. Monthly water bills upwards of $20,000 are not unheard of.

Protea do not like nutrient-rich soil. Once plants are established, weeding and pruning are the only required maintenance, aside from harvesting. The field teams prune as they harvest, so they don’t have to revisit the field for that specific task before the next season. They cut based on orders that have been received to ensure the freshest product is going to their customers. Cut stems are placed in fresh water in the field and transported by pick-up truck to the cooler. Flowers are graded, packed, and shipped to destinations across the United States, Canada, Japan, and Korea. The majority are sold to wholesalers, some to mass markets, and a few directly to florists in cases where there is not a wholesaler in their area. The weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day are not surprisingly their busiest with more than 500 boxes shipped per week. A more typical weekly average would be between 30 and 100 boxes.

Plants from Down Under

In addition to protea, Resendiz Brothers specializes in Proteaceae genera Leucospermum (pincushions), Banksia, LeucadendronTelopea and Grevillea. Kangaroo paws (Anigozanthos) are also a major offering, a unique flower because it is most colorful in bud stage, where the fine hairs covering the bud provide its brilliant colors. They also grow filler flowers such as Chamelaucium (wax flowers), CalycinaLeptospermumBoronia (also offering a lemony fragrance), and rice flower; and foliage including eucalyptus, conifers, and variegated Ligustrum (privet). Never heard of some of these? They are largely natives of South Africa and Australia, many of which were collected and brought to the United States by Dr. Peter Sacks, one of the founders of Zorro’s, who was himself a native of South Africa.

Protea has many distinctive species, each with its own common name. For example, P. cynaroides, is king protea, P. magnifica is queen, and P. obtusifolia is jester. There are nearly 200 species of Banksia, admired for its colorful, cone-shaped blooms and its hard, woody fruit. Diana sends a photo sheet with each availability list to help familiarize her customers, recognizing that these flowers are not as commonly known by name as other specialty cuts.

When Diana first joined Resendiz Brothers she felt that protea had not been given much attention by wholesalers, florists, or the general public. In large part, she attributed this to “poor quality and boring photos,” that represented these specialty flowers in the trade. The first effort she made was to increase awareness and recognition. She would set up at trade show with an educational approach—bunches of each exotic flower they offered labeled with the plant name, on one side of the booth, and examples of bouquets and arrangements filling the rest of the booth. She entered the SAF Outstanding varieties competition, and often won. They have a presence at garden shows, on farm tours, and Diana says, “I’m always very cooperative with trade magazines.”

She maintains electronic and social media outlets including www.resendizbrothers.com, a blog, a monthly newsletter for their customers, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Wherever people are looking for flowers, Diana wants protea to be seen. It wouldn’t be a far stretch to give Diana at least some of the credit for starting that latest bridal craze. King protea may be getting all the attention right now, but it will no doubt be a window of opportunity to introduce florist and consumers, and perhaps even a few fellow growers, to other exotic beauties that offer unique textures and rich colors.

Showcasing Protea

In a recent blog post, Diana explained how she had sent three floral designers a box of protea, fillers and foliage and asked them to create something beautiful. The designers in Pennsylvania, Washington and California each produced not one, but multiple stellar arrangements, including a floral headpiece suitable for a wedding. In her blog post, Diana linked to each designer’s Facebook page and credited each [gorgeous] photo submitted by the designers.

While protea may need this extra marketing savvy to gain attention of floral designers, the idea could easily be borrowed by any grower for mutually beneficial exposure.

For more photos (and a great example of using Pinterest to promote your flowers), visit http://www.pinterest.com/dianalroy/.

Megan Bame

Megan Bame is a freelance writer in Salisbury, North Carolina. Contact her at [email protected]