Back in 1890 — when the population of Pasadena was 4,882 and the Rose Parade was in its earliest iteration — members of the Valley Hunt Club decorated their carriages with hundreds of blooms to showcase the region's abundance of flowers, even in winter.
“In New York, people are buried in snow,” Charles F. Holder said at a club meeting, according to historical accounts. “Here our flowers are blooming and our oranges are about to bear. Let's hold a festival to tell the world about our paradise.”
But somewhere along the way in the decades since, Pasadena began to import its paradise. The colorful flower petals and shiny green leaves decorating Rose Parade floats were less likely grown in California's rose fields and more often flown in from abroad, a reflection of global shifts in the floral trade.
“The Rose Parade began as a way to flaunt California's year-round beautiful weather by showcasing its bounty of flowers,” said Kasey Cronquist, chief executive of the California Cut Flower Commission. “Ironically, today, most floats feature flowers sourced from overseas.”
The kicker came last January. Passion Growers, a U.S. importer of South American-grown roses, signed on as a corporate sponsor of the pageant and was billed as “the official rose of the Rose Bowl.”
“It was embarrassing,” said Mike A. Mellano, production vice president at Mellano & Co. and a third-generation flower grower based in Oceanside. “Here we have this iconic domestic event, and California flowers are not even recognized as a part of it.”
That was the impetus, Mellano said, to make sure two of the 44 floats traveling along Colorado Boulevard on Monday are decorated in locally grown roses as well as California gerbera daisies, field mums, alstroemeria, solidago and gypsophila. The last time any Rose Parade float was decorated with 100% California-grown ingredients was — well, it has been so long, officials aren't quite sure.
“It would have been decades ago,” said Rick Jackson, president of the Tournament of Roses, who has been with the organization since 1975. “The only decorating rule we have is that everything on the float has to be covered with something organic in its natural state.”