It literally takes millions of flowers to cover all the fabulous floats for this beloved New Year's Day event.

By Andrea Beck
December 31, 2019
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Staying up until midnight is a New Year’s Eve tradition across the world, and for many of us, it's just as traditional to watch the iconic Rose Parade in Pasadena, California, the next day. This event is part of the Tournament of Roses, which began in 1890 as a way to celebrate the abundance of fresh blooms in California in January, while most of the country is buried under snow and ice. Back then, horse-drawn carriages covered with fresh flowers paraded down the streets of Pasadena (the first motor-driven floats didn’t make an appearance until 1920). Now, thousands of hours of prep, millions of flowers, and lots of dedication and creativity go into making the Rose Parade special every year. Even if you’re a lifelong viewer of the parade, here are a few interesting facts to keep in mind as you watch floral floats, marching bands, and equestrians travel down Colorado Boulevard in 2020.

Rose Parage float of the Royal Court, Queen Victoria
Credit: Gabriel Olsen/Getty Images

1. More Than Just Roses Are Used for Decorating Floats

Roses are usually the star of the show on parade day, but you’ll see a lot of other flowers and plant parts covering the floats, too. Orchids, carnations, and irises are among some of the other commonly used blooms. Float designers are permitted to decorate with pretty much any natural material, though, so you may notice leaves, seeds, bark, and even fruits and veggies being put to creative use. This year, participants are including elements like coconut, seaweed, moss, chickpeas, and rice alongside fresh flowers to bring their floats to life.

2. The Parade Uses Millions of Flowers

An article in the Los Angeles Times noted that 18 million flowers were used to cover all the floats in the 2010 parade, but because the parade is different each year, it’s tricky to know exactly how many flowers go into making all the floats. Even the smallest floats need thousands of fresh-cut flowers, and there are usually more than 40 floats each year, so it likely takes millions each year. The estimates from the 2020 parade float builders range from 8,000 flowers covering the 30-foot-long Royal Court float to over 220,000 flowers on the 75-foot Trader Joe’s float.

3. Floats Are Decorated in Chilly Conditions

Fresh cut flowers don’t last long, so most of the floats are created within a week or a few days before the parade. To help the flowers stay fresh, the decorating takes place indoors in “float barns” around Pasadena, kept at chilly temperatures to preserve the cut flowers. You can usually go watch the decorating process a few days before the parade, and it’s not uncommon to see volunteers wearing winter coats, hats, earmuffs, and gloves to stay warm in the float barns. The all-important roses are also usually added to floats in small, water-filled tubes called floral vials to help them last through the decorating process and the parade.

Rose Parage float presented by Honda
Credit: MediaNews Group/Torrance Daily Breeze via Getty Images

4. Hundreds of Volunteers Make the Floats

Volunteers are key to the Rose Parade every year—they help decorate floats, plan the parade, and keep everything running smoothly on New Year’s Day. This year, 935 active volunteers have collectively contributed about 80,000 hours of work for the parade. As the event gets closer, some can work up to 12 or 13 hours a day cutting flowers, snipping petals, and placing roses to make sure all the floats are decorated in time.

5. Most of the Flowers Are Composted After the Parade

Once the parade is over, the floats are parked along two streets in Pasadena for a couple of days so attendees can get a closer look at the craftsmanship and design that goes into each one. But once all the festivities are over, volunteers go back to work disassembling the floats. Some materials, like the metal frames, can be melted down and recycled, and floral vials are set aside and saved for the next year. The flowers themselves (and other natural materials) are usually starting to wilt after a few days on display, so most are composted or recycled into mulch to help new plants grow.

No matter how late we stay up the night before, we’ll be up bright and early to watch the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day! NBC, ABC, and the Hallmark Channel will all be airing the parade from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. PST, and Univision will show coverage from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. PST. Each 2020 float celebrates the theme “The Power of Hope,” and you can keep an eye out for stunning floats from organizations like Donate Life, Kiwanis International, and Shriners Hospitals for Children, among dozens of others.

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