The coldest Rose Parade ever looms, but flower handlers carry on

World War II veteran Robert Baba, 97, places a rose on a float sponsored by the city of Alhambra.
(Christina House / For The Times)

A group of volunteers prepping for the 2015 Rose Parade sat at a long table on a chilly Tuesday morning fixated on rows of white carnations, cupping each bud in their hands as they gently blew on the petals.

“It’s called huffing and puffing,” said Karen Myers, who is a volunteer with the group Petal Pushers assigned to dealing with all things floral.

More than a fairy-tale phenomenon, “huffing and puffing” at the Rose Parade means forcing flowers to open up before they’re ready so they’ll look presentable for the New Year’s Day event in Pasadena.


Warm breath on flowers may seem illogical as blooms often need cooler temperatures to look their finest. But the current cold weather -- the 2015 Rose Parade may be the coldest one in the event’s history -- has kept the flowers taut and they need an extra push to open up their petals.

The cold can particularly wreak havoc on some exotic flowers.

Float designers with Phoenix Decorating Co. blasted heaters overnight at buckets of bright orange upright Heliconia and deep maroon hanging Heliconia, which thrive in warmer climates, to keep them from freezing inside their flower tent.

Those flowers were among thousands of colorful plants and buds stored inside the massive tent serving as the hub of demand for dozens of volunteers -- bundled in warm sweaters and beanies -- as they scurried to finish decorations on the floats.

“We are just trying to keep warm,” said Cassie Ellis, who oversees all operations inside the flower tent. “But really it’s not us, it’s the flowers we have to worry about.”

It was a far different story last year. Balmy weather spurred float decorators to run fans to cool down plants as they wilted in the heat.


This year, however, a winter storm is setting in, not only chilling float workers but also the hundreds of fans who will camp along the parade route on Colorado Boulevard. The temperatures could meet or beat the previous Rose Parade low of 32 degrees set in 1952.

Meanwhile, some volunteers may have to work through the night to finish up their elaborate displays of flowers and seeds in time for Wednesday’s judging and Thursday’s parade, which will be televised live worldwide.

Cold or warm, some welcome the added pressure.

Nan Koupal-Smith has been decorating floats since she was 11. The Nashville resident is now 51 and still travels from her home every year to participate in the Southern California float-decorating tradition.

She hopes to pass the tradition along to her 13-year-old son, who has already passed up a tennis tournament for a chance to partake in this year’s float decorating.

Another devoted volunteer, Mason Sommers, worked Tuesday, painstakingly gluing pink Gladiolus petals onto the wing of a butterfly display for the Donate Life float.

He may have been warm enough, but his back and knees were achy. He said he didn’t mind so much because his body had experienced much worse pain.

Five years ago, Sommers’ chances of survival looked grim as he waited for a heart transplant. In a silver lining to the tragic death of a 23-year-old man, Sommers received his heart.

He doesn’t know much about the young man but hasn’t stopped thinking about him.

For the last four years, Sommers has dedicated his time to decorating the Donate Life float, which pays tribute to organ donors and their recipients.

“This is my way of honoring this young man for giving me his life,” he said.

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