Top 10 Flowers Used in the Floats

What flowers will blanket this year's floats, and why?

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When it comes to the Rose Parade, it's all about flowers. Parade rules dictate every square inch of a float's surface be covered with flowers or "other natural botanical materials." This is, after all, a parade begun more than a century ago as a way to showcase Southern California's balmy winters to the people shivering in the January cold back East.

Fully decorated, the average 50-foot float contains more flowers than a typical American florist will sell in five years. What flowers will blanket this year's floats, and why will those be the blossoms used?


Of course, roses are a mainstay of the parade; their showy blooms have flaunted the paradisiacal qualities of balmy Pasadena since the parade's inception. Pasadenians have been affixing roses to horse-drawn buggies, and later horseless carriages, then cars and finally floats for 117 years, and they aren't about to stop now. Roughly one and a half million roses will be used to decorate this year's fleet of floats.


Strawflowers are a float designer's best friend. These South African natives are used on floats after they’ve been dried, so they can be ordered as early as six months in advance of the parade with no risk of the blooms perishing, Lamb says. Strawflowers come in autumnal tones ranging from rust to yellow. Typically the flowers are placed in industrial blenders, reduced to confetti and used to cover delicate sculptural designs.


Floral designers favor the oversize petals of the gladiolus instead of smaller blooms such as carnations when "petaling," a time-consuming technique where decorators affix individual petals to floats. Designers often highlight the edges of sculptural forms with glad petals to make them pop. Piink, purple and cream gladiolus petals are applied to clear plastic, creating show-stopping translucent butterfly wings. Glad petals are also used to approximate flesh tones on the faces of human float figures. The tall, spiky South African plant is also left intact on floats to create dramatic floral designs.


When a float design calls for a naturalistic woodland setting, floral designers reach for tulips. Used in groupings on the float deck, tulips simulate Mother Nature's random hand. But working with them isn't easy: They must be kept in water. While Holland traditionally has supplied most of the tulips used on floats, many of today's more interesting varieties now come from the Pacific Northwest, which also makes them less costly to use.


Volunteers strip the petals off tens of thousands of these California-grown flowers by hand and apply them one by one to floats. The vivid golds, yellows and oranges of marigolds make them suitable for use on brightly colored figures, clothing and accents. To emulate the vibrant orange-gold hue of a goldfish, designers at one float-building company relied on millions of marigold petals. Because marigolds don't lose their color after they have dried, float designers dehydrate the petals, making them easier to work with and long-lasting.


Orchids flown from Thailand, Singapore and Hawaii are used in stem, bloom and petal form. Beloved for their amazing color palette that moves from white to deep magenta to tiger-striped, orchids are used for many applications, and they hold their color very well.


The iris takes its name from the Greek word for rainbow in a nod to the flower's broad color palette, but floral directors look to the blue varieties come Rose Parade time because blue is a hard-to-find flower color in the wintertime. Flag-, ice- and pale-blue irises are shipped in from as far away as Holland and used to mimic streams, rivers, fountains and waterfalls.


Mums aren't used on floats as extensively as they once were; they're being replaced by less costly flowers such as carnations. "Mumming," the term for gluing the large, pompon-like blossom onto floats, creates a plush, velvety texture. Yellow is the most traditional mum color, but Mexican and South African varieties come in shades of white, pink and lavender.


Because carnations are hardy and long-lasting, they are ideal for use as boutonnieres and corsages. This quality also makes them indispensable for float decoration. The full flower and lush, showy bloom make a dramatic statement when used to decorate large surface areas on floats. Lamb merges a sea of crimson carnations with red roses to mimic the flames of an Olympic torch. Carnations' affordability – they cost one-third as much as roses – makes them an economical coverage material.


Patriotic symbols such as flags, bald eagles and Lady Liberty are mainstays on Rose Parade floats, and it would be nearly impossible to approximate bunting, the draped strips of red, white and blue fabric, without statice. Swags of this rare blue flower are indispensable when it comes to duplicating the colors of Old Glory. Though native to Europe, statice thrives in dry-climate Southern California and Mexico, the origin for most of the statice blooms now used on floats.

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