Tropical vs. Local Flowers — How to Choose the Best Wedding Bouquet for the Caribbean

Hi there! In my quest to work my way through my Top Ten Destination Wedding Tips, today we’ve arrived at #5 — what you need to know about choosing your flowers for a Caribbean destination wedding.

Almost every bride I talk to answers the same question the same way. I ask — “What kind of flowers are you thinking about?” She responds — “Tropical flowers. Something local to the island.”

Okay, quick reality check. Nothing is “local” to the island. Yes, Vieques Island and all the other Caribbean islands are covered in absolutely fantastic flora and fauna. The bougainvilleas are phenomenal, the hibiscuses are to die for, and the flamboyan trees everywhere are straight out of magazines. But none of these flowers survives for very long once they’re cut and out of water. And there’s nothing more unattractive than a bride carrying a dead bouquet. It really makes for “special” pictures, don’t you think?

Tropical flowers, yes. Local flowers, no. There are plenty of absolutely exquisite tropical flowers available to you in the Caribbean that would be outrageously expensive if you tried to use them in the states, like orchids in every variety and color. There are also tropical flowers that come from other tropics that are very, very expensive to use. For example, fresh plumeria is shipped to Puerto Rico from Hawaii via special order. Most florists make you pay for them in advance, including the shipping, and make you sign a release to hold them harmless if the plumeria arrives dead or doesn’t make it through your wedding day.

Do some research before you get your heart set on any particular flower. It’s okay to have an idea of the colors you want in your head, but wait until you’ve talked with your wedding planner or florist before you insert hyacinths and tulips in your mental wedding bouquet. Tear out pictures in bridal magazine of bouquets you like — the florist can use them as a color and style guideline. But be open to suggestions from the professionals at your Caribbean destination. They know what flowers work, and what flowers don’t. Take their advice.

Some blooms you can day-dream about if you just can’t wait for your floral consultation are orchids, roses, nasturtiums, hydrangea, Gerber daisies, lilies, and birds of paradise. These flowers endure the heat the best and will hold up throughout your wedding day, for pictures, the ceremony and the reception.

A good Caribbean florist will refuse to work with “local” flowers. A shyster will charge you a couple hundred dollars to run out and pick the flowers fresh that day — and they’ll still poop out on you 20 minutes after the boutonnière is pinned on your groom. I was frankly appalled when I did some research online before writing this blog entry and found several “reputable” wedding planning companies offering local bouquets for $150-$200. You might as well have your bouquet done at home and carry it down on the plane with you. It’ll look just as fresh as a “local” bouquet for a couple of hundred dollars. I don’t care what they tell you — they lie. RUN, don’t walk, away from anybody — wedding planner or florist — who tells you they can make your bouquets and centerpieces out of “local flowers.” Enough said. Tropical flowers — good. Local flowers — bad.

Okay, so let’s pretend you’ve done your research and read my blog and you’ve got a realistic picture in your head. You can visualize your bouquet — maybe it’s fat white Vandalia roses, pink Dendrobium orchids, and baby’s breath. Maybe you’re picturing elegant centerpieces with one long orchid stem, full of blossoms cascading around a large cylindrical vase. Sounds simple and lovely.

In fact, it sounds so simple that you wonder why you’re paying a professional florist lots of money to create them for you. After all, your cousin Susie did the flowers for your cousin Mary’s wedding and they looked fantastic. Both Susie and Mary are coming to the islands for your wedding — why not ask them to do your flowers?

Stop right there. It’s all well and good to have a friend or family member do your flowers when you get married in your hometown. As long as you’re someplace where you can readily correct mistakes and get additional supplies as needed if something goes wrong, I think it’s a lovely idea and a great way to save money. In the Caribbean, it’s not such a “hot” idea, pardon the pun.

Vieques Island, for example, is not the place you want to be when it’s two hours before a wedding and you’ve forgotten critical floral supplies. You can’t just run out to a craft store to get floral tape, craft wire, satin ribbon, pearl-tipped hat pins, or whatever else your arrangements and bouquets require. You’ll be S.O.L. if that happens and even an experienced wedding planner won’t be able to save you at that point (of course, if you’re working with an “experienced” wedding planner, she will have tried to talk you out of having Susie and Mary do your flowers in the first place).

I’m not saying you can’t have a friend do your flowers, but make sure your florist-du-jour brings all of her supplies with her, plus extra of absolutely everything. You’ll probably still be ordering your blooms through a florist on the island, so if something goes wrong, you can hope he’ll take pity on you. But don’t count on it. If you didn’t book the local florist that weekend, another bride did. And the florist isn’t going to stop what he’s doing for her to save your butt after you tried to skimp on his fees.

There are lots of wedding planners that cross-advertise their services. Some of them are very talented florists or they make beautiful wedding cakes, and you can save money by getting these things from them when you retain their services. But make sure you request pictures of their work. If you decide to have a wedding planner do all of your centerpieces, ask her to put one together completely and send you a picture to approve. She’ll probably charge you for the materials, but that’s okay. That way you make sure exactly what each one is going to cost. And everything except fresh flowers can be set aside and used for a real centerpiece on the day of your wedding.

I know this is just a little bit of information on a variety of really important topics, but I’m hoping it will be helpful. If it stops just one bride from demanding tulips and jonquils in her Caribbean wedding bouquet, I’ve done my job.

The next topic I’ll be blogging on is how to secure discounts for your wedding guests on travel and accommodations for your wedding. Be sure to stop back to find out how to get group discounts from major airlines, and how to make sure there are enough cars available for all of your guests. I’ll also be offering pointers on how to block accommodations for your guests, and how to actually get your guests to make their reservations right away so that you know for sure how many guests you have coming and that all of them have the important stuff taken care of.

Until next time, happy wedding planning! And don’t forget to include Vieques Island, Puerto Rico, in your short list of amazing Caribbean wedding destinations. To learn more about the island, go to or


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