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NMSU hidden treasure provides fresh flowers and plants for all occasions

With Mother's Day just a couple of weeks away, flower shops across the country are gearing up for the biggest weekend of the year. You may not know that New Mexico State University's Intercollegiate Floriculture Club sets up shop in the lobby of Gerald Thomas Hall every Wednesday from 9-11:30 a.m. to sell cut flowers, plants and floral arrangements for the NMSU community and the public.

Two young women work with flowers
Left, Carolyn Lauritzen works on a custom floral arrangement while Amanda Wilks (right), looks for some cut flowers to complement the unique arrangement requested by a customer. (NMSU photo by Audry Olmsted)

"This helps us recover costs from practice as well as gives the students some skills in marketing and customer service," said Sabine Green, coordinator of the Floriculture Program in the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences. "They also have to learn floral identification very quickly because this is cash-and-carry where a customer comes up and says, 'I want that. What is it called and how much is it?' They have to be quick on their feet and they have to be able to do math in their head. Some of those skills are gleaned out of our club."

Arrangements can be delivered on the Las Cruces campus and standing weekly orders can be arranged. Club members can also create customized designs. All money earned from sales goes to fund club events, competitions and travel.

Through participation in the club, as well as basic and advanced courses within the ornamental horticulture program, students learn floral evaluation and design. They study current industry standards, the history and background of floral design and the floral industry, and also explore various careers that can be pursued with a degree in floriculture.

Green said a person with a floriculture degree is not limited to working in a florist's shop. Graduates can go into fields that involve the growing aspect of cut flowers, genetics, school or professional educators. There are also careers for people who create some of the design elements that go along with cut flowers or plants, such as containers, wraps and ribbons.

The diversity of what the program offers is what draws students to participate.

Amanda Wilks is finishing up her first semester participating with the floriculture team. She said she appreciates the support she receives from Green to work on independent projects and the flexibility to experiment with different designs.

"I want to do something along the line of event design," she said. "Having that aspect of the floral industry - especially event planning - was what initially drew me to it."

Carolyn Lauritzen grew up playing with flowers and flower design - both of her parents are involved in agriculture and her mom teaches floriculture. When she realized NMSU has a floriculture program and club, she sat in on a class and knew she wanted to participate more.

"I have a very formal design technique," she said. "I am trying to expand and get a little funkier or a little bit more outside the box. This class has definitely helped me expand on the things I am able to do as far as arrangements go."

Lauritzen said she is considering teaching floriculture design at the high school level when she graduates.

There is a real science behind floral design. Green said studies have been conducted on color and color theory that determine what kind of feelings are instilled based on the flower colors a person has.

"Flowers are considered to be therapeutic, as well," said Green. "Just having flowers at your desk or in your home has proven to be very therapeutic and bring up a person's mindset to where they can sit down and focus at work or focus on something at home."

During the Victorian times, the sale of flowers saw a surge based in part on people's belief in different lore. Red roses were given to express love while orange lilies, for example, were given as an expression of hate.

"They developed an entire language of gift giving around the Victorian period," Green said. "That particular mindset was carried out through history and has become part of the modern day floral gift-giving ideas."

The floriculture club is a chartered student organization that has been regularly active at NMSU since 1997.

"Historically, flowers were given for such things as athletes or gladiators who won a competition. It was a way to bestow appreciation," Green said.

Today's flower breeders have really bred out floral scent in favor of flowers that have certain petal counts or large heads. Green said that customers are demanding flowers with fragrance and breeders are starting now to look into bringing stronger scents back to the flowers.

Current fashion trends play a big part in floral design, Green said. Students look for influence based on regions of the world. Through the program, students learn about texture and the proper mechanics of floral design, meaning how well the arrangement is put together so that it will hold up during and after delivery.

Besides weekly flower sales, students in the club also participate in various NMSU events, such as the recent Earth Day celebrations, and they sometimes take their creations to the local farmer's market. The students also maintain a greenhouse at the Las Cruces campus. Many of the plants they sell come from the greenhouse. Due to the volume and demand, many of their cut flowers come from wholesalers in New Mexico and Texas.

Green said they have a plot of land at NMSU's Fabian Garcia Research Center that they hope to turn into a cut flower garden within the next three years.

"This is a student-oriented program," Green said. "We try to prepare students for the floral industry. We do not have internships where students go out to retail florist shops, but we do experiential learning through the weekly flower sales. It's student driven so some of the marketing techniques you see and some of the designs you see are things the students have come up with. (Coming to the flower sales) tells the students, 'We're proud of you and support what you're exploring.'"

For more information on the program, contact Green at swhitley@nmsu.edu.