Spotlight: The Life of a Flower in the Rose Parade

Spotlight: The Life of a Flower in the Rose Parade

December 29, 2013

Watched by millions each year, the Tournament of Roses Parade, held in Pasadena, Calif., is a New Year's Day tradition for many. Celebrating its 125th anniversary, the parade has evolved from the quaint flower-decorated horses and buggies of 1890 to today's elaborate floats featuring high-tech computerized animation and exotic natural materials from around the world. Because the flowers that cover the floats will only live a few days, decorating must be completed in record time.

We asked Tim Estes, president of Fiesta Parade Floats and the creator of more than 235 Rose Parade floats since 1988, how as many as 65,000 cut flowers get placed on a single float in just six days before the parade. The race begins on December 26th, when the flowers begin to arrive. Here’s how the magic happens:

  • Roses and exotic flowers such as orchids, gerbera daisies, and heliconia begin arriving December 26, 27 and 28th.
  • Exotics come from Hawaii and Southeast Asia. Roses and other florals come primarily from South America and from the Dutch flower council in Europe.
  • Tens of thousands of vials of water are filled and capped in preparation for the flowers.
  • Each flower stem is cut under water so air bubbles don’t inhibit uptake. This allows the flower to drink more easily.
  • The cut flowers are put into the vials and stored, 50 per sheet, on pieces of foam.
  • The flower-covered foam sheets are then refrigerated in semi-trucks or out in buckets of water, depending on the weather.
  • Just prior to being placed on the float, the stems are cut again to their final determined length.
  • A flower crew of 100 people handles all of the flowers. They work in two shifts from 8am to 4pm and 4pm to midnight every day leading up to the parade.
  • The flowers are placed onto the float frame according to the design.

An award-winning float builder, Estes has assembled a team of world-renowned design and floral technology experts with an eye for detail to build, select, and arrange the float flowers. “We want to emphasize the floral beauty, but we have to really pay attention to the intricate details,” he says. “You have to think about the thickness of the flower, such as a rose which sticks up a couple of inches,” he explains. “For the red stripes on an American flag, let’s say, you could use carnations. But if you’re using sweet rice for the white stripes, you either have to elevate the white strip 1½ inches or build down the red strip so it looks smooth. We’re really in the illusion business.”

Tim Estes
Tim Estes, president of Fiesta Parade Floats has built more than 235 Rose Parade floats since 1988.

Fun Factoids about the Parade:

  • In its first year, officials were faced with the dilemma of having a parade on Sunday, which would interfere with church services. Starting the festival a day later was the easy solution. The “Never on Sunday” tradition continues today.
  • 1895 was the first of ten times it rained on the Parade. Other years include 1899, 1906, 1910, 1916, 1922, 1934, 1937, 1955 and 2006.
  • Average size of a float is 18 feet wide and 55 feet long. Height is 16-30 feet tall.
  • Every square inch of the exposed surface of a float must be covered with flowers or other natural material.
  • Wild grasses, seeds, barks, and produce are some of the materials used on floats. Estes says potatoes cut in half make a great cobblestone street!

Along with many other awards, Fiesta Parade Floats has won the coveted Sweepstakes Award 20 consecutive times. Here's a sneak peek at some of the concept drawings for this years’ Rose Parade from Fiesta Parade Floats.

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