CO-Horts Blog

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Behind the Scenes at the Tournament of Roses

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension; and Shirley Reed, Larimer County Master Gardener
Photo from
Master Gardener Shirley had the experience of a lifetime on New Year's that takes place in Pasadena, California. Shirley got a gig helping create floats for the 130th annual Tournament of Roses parade. I watched the parade this year and still find it hard to believe that the floats are, indeed, created from plant material. It's fascinating!

The process to create these breathtaking floats starts a year in advance with the theme--which was "Making a Difference." All float designs must be approved by the tournament committee to assure that each is unique. Construction, however, is done from March to December, with the average float taking four months to complete. There are four professional builders that create the majority of the floats. The floats are tested to ensure they are mechanically and structurally sound.
Float assembly leading up to the main event (photo from
The floats are eligible for one of 24 trophies, awarded on December 31. For the parade, floats are lined up and two float operators man the float--one operating the steering, engine, gas and brakes....all without being able to see the road. That brings in the importance of the second operator, who verbally cues the other person on if they need to speed up, slow down or turn right and left. The route is over five miles long and takes two hours. (Shout out to the marching bands!)

Shirley sent me a bunch of photos and details about how they create these beautiful structures. With dozens of other volunteers, Shirley did her share of assembly and flower placement! She also had the pleasure to meet Dr. Tommy Cairns, a California Master Gardener and Rosarian, who gave a lecture on the roses they use on the floats.
Shirley with Dr. Tommy Cairns, Rosarian and fellow Master Gardener
Enjoy a tour of Shirley's photos on how these creations come to life.
This purple flower was made from statice flower dust and great northern beans.
For the photograph above, volunteers trimmed the buds off statice flower stems, which were then ground up in a blender to make a fine flower dust. Volunteers placed each identically-sized bean on the structure, which took some time.
UPS Store float in the 130th Tournament of Roses
The feathered wings for the UPS Store float were orchid petals!

A friendly teddy bear--made entirely from plant material.
For this float, beans were used to create the butterflies. Golden mums cover the bear and blueberries dot his eyes.

Singing frogs delight!
The frog jackets are all roses. The bumps on their heads are limes, oranges and grapefruits. The log was made from wood mulch.

Shirley stripping off leaves from the yellow roses.
With 95 other volunteers, Shirley's assignment was to strip leaves off rose stems, cut the stems to 4", stick them in a vial of water and place them on a foam board.
Thousands are roses are used for parade floats each year.
After eight hours, Shirley and her team completed the preparation for 32,000 roses to be applied to 11 different floats. Roses are a bit perishable and can only be applied to the floats two days in advance. Other plant material is more sturdy. Though her back ached some, she was thrilled with doing her part! What an incredible experience...and the Buckeyes won the game--a win-win for everyone.


  1. Your last sentence made me laugh! Alison loves her Buckeyes. Thank you Shirley for sharing what is involved in the construction of these floats; most informative and interesting. Amazing results. Mom Stoven

  2. This is so fascinating. And what an amazing opportunity for Shirley! Thanks for sharing!
    -Amy L.