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NMSU Flower Power: Horticulture Students Design, Judge Floral Crops in South Dakota

LAS CRUCES -- Horticulture students from New Mexico State University had little time to stop and smell the flowers earlier this month at the Floral Crops Quality Evaluation and Design Competition in Sioux Falls, S.D.


In the national contest, NMSU's floral design students had one hour to create finished corsages and arrangements, while judging team members had just three minutes to scrutinize and rank each table of four plants in the 30-category contest.

Though the competition was tough, four NMSU design contestants placed and the judging team gained valuable experience, said Geno Picchioni, the group's coach and NMSU assistant horticulture professor.

"I think one of the biggest and best outcomes of this exercise is that they sharpen up their on-their-feet skills and critical thinking skills that we really don't do enough of in the classroom," he said. "We need to arm them with those skills to get them out in the industry."

Twenty NMSU students prepared for the competition in a Horticulture 450 class with help from Picchioni and assistant coaches Sabine Green and Saundra Castille, NMSU alumnae. The top eight students competed against university teams representing California, California Polytechnic, Illinois, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, South Dakota State, Texas A&M, Utah State and Wisconsin.

NMSU's preparation paid off in floral design competition, divided into professional and nonprofessional categories based on students' experience. Keeley Muncrief placed first in professional centerpiece. Muncrief was on last year's team, the first group to represent NMSU at the national contest in several years.

Senior Aaron Wohler placed fourth in one-sided design, nonprofessional division, where he arranged an assortment of stock, freesia, roses, carnations and basic greenery. Contestants were judged on artistic merit.

"You focus on color, line, texture and basic design," explained Wohler, who has an art background. "In one-sided arrangements, you're not working with the same abundance of flowers as in round arrangements."

Junior Sandy Stout placed fifth in professional corsage competition. Senior Danise Coon placed sixth in the professional designer's choice category with a tropical arrangement.

The judging team, made up of seniors Jose Quiles and Veronica Sevilla, and sophomores Carla Logan and Michele Hudson, evaluated 30 different classes of flowers and potted plants.

"The competition is directly tied to the horticultural industry because plants are judged according to industry standards that determine how much growers get for their crops," Picchioni said.

In the competition, the judging team stood with their backs to a table of four specimens. At the proctor's cue, they whirled and ranked the plants based on their horticultural qualities.

"You're faced with this new variety of plants, maybe that you've seen and maybe that you haven't, and you have to be able to look at them in three minutes, notice the faults on each, calculate them in your head and see which is best and which is worst comparatively," Logan explained.

While the team had practiced judging common flowers many times in class, they had never seen some of the tropical specimens, including ginger brought in from Hawaii.

"I would like to work in developing hybrids and seed production, and I think this floral evaluation competition helped me out a lot as far as having an eye for quality in floral crops," said Quiles.

Ironically, the floral competition was held during a snowstorm. Other activities included tours of South Dakota greenhouses and dairies.