Thursday, December 30, 2010


   If you have ever seen the elaborate floats in the Tournament of Roses Parade, chances are you have wondered where all those flowers come from and how the floats are made.  The building of a Tournament of Roses Float involves hundreds of people over a year long process that begins in February.  The main structure, including elaborate hydraulic systems to operate the mechanical features of the float, is created by professional float builders, but the final application of flowers is completed primarily by volunteers just like you and me.

Float Design Begins in February

   The process begins with a meeting between the sponsor who commission the float and the people in charge of building it.  Float building companies generally design and build several floats for different clients.  Designers develop a detailed sketch that incorporates the client's wishes with the parades theme.  Once approved by the sponsor, the sketch is refined and hand colored.  The floral director then chooses the floral material to represent the overall design.  Flowers and other natural materials are chosen for both color and texture to create the illusion of living people and props.


Flowers Cover Every Square inch of Rose Parade Floats

   The rules of the Rose Parade stipulate that flowers or other natural plant materials (that have grown, are growing, or will grow) cover the entire surface of the float.  Flower blooms, moss, seeds and pods, bark, live or dried leaves, grains and vegetables selected to cover the float must be used in their natural state and cannot be dyed.

Floral Directors Calculate How Many Flowers Are Needed

 m  Experienced floral directors easily calculate the needed amount of each material by using coverage formulas for the individual plants or organic material used.  These amazing directors can quote from heart the number of roses or Gerber daisies it takes to fill one square foot of area on a parade float.

Ordering Begins in April

   Beginning in April, vendors from around the world begin receiving orders for flowers to be delivered prior to the completion of the float in late December.  One float may require between 400 and 500 varieties of flowers and millions of individual blooms.  Many are specially grown to meet the needs of the float they will be used on. Flowers must be ready to go and delivered within a one-week window prior to the parade, with some arriving the morning of the parade.

Flowers Arrive in Refrigerated Trucks in December

   Refrigerated trucks begin arriving in Pasadena the week of Christmas and place the flowers in refrigerated tents that may cover half of a football field.  Each float-building company operates one or two of these tents and stores flowers in buckets or on racks, with the flowers for each float sectioned and marked ready to go to the individual floats.  About 10 days prior to the parade, flowers are moved to float-building barns.


Giant Paint by Number Picture Directs Float Assembly

   The base of the float is sprayed with a polyvinyl shell and painted to resemble a paint by number picture to indicate which plant material should be placed in each area.  Builders follow the pattern to fill in areas with the appropriate material.

Volunteers Get to Work Completing the Float

   Volunteers from all across the nation do much of the manual work of assembling the floats.  Volunteers are assigned specific jobs to match their skill level.  First time volunteers may spend the day cutting flowers or removing individual petals.  More experienced volunteers work on more intricate details of the float.  Volunteers begin at the top and work their way to the bottom.  The most intricate details are left to last, often completed within hours of the parade.  Volunteers complete the base last to avoid damage from workers as they work on other areas.  Roses and blooms that require water rest in vials of water, attached to the base.  Other less fragile flowers are attached to wire stems and inserted into floral foam.  Some materials, like individual flower petals are glued in place to create the desired effect.  Dried flowers may be blended to a fine powder and used for shading.

Long Hours Complete the Work on Floats

   The work of assembling the float is long and difficult.  It take 60 volunteers working 10-hour days, 10 days to complete a float.  Once completed the float leader inspects the float for any errors and gives the final word that the float is ready to go.

Floats Take a 12 Mile Journey to the Parade Site

   Floats are then towed to the parade route in Pasadena.  The journey is a mere 12 miles long, but it takes anywhere from 5 to 8 hours to transport the floats to the parade site.  Float leaders generally pack an assortment of each material used on the float in the event that damage occurs on the way and make last minute repairs prior to parade time.

Beginning Again

   After the parade and the announcement of next year's theme, sponsors commission new floats for the upcoming year.  Old floats are stripped to the chassis and the process begins again as new visions are put to paper and designs of elaborate creations are set in motion for the year long journey to the next Tournament of Roses Parade.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Brought back childhood memories of working on one of these floats :)

    Great post!