Knowing which types of flowers would be appropriate at a funeral versus which ones are better suited for a high school prom will be pivotal for four Phoenix High School students in the coming weeks.
The school's Future Farmers of America floriculture team — which specializes in plant knowledge and floral arrangements — will spend the next month planning for a national championship that will put the group's skills to the test.
"It's nerveracking, but I'm really excited to go," said Constance Robertson, a Phoenix junior who is one of four girls traveling to Indianapolis, Ind., Oct. 24-27, to compete in the National FFA Floriculture Career Development Event, part of this year's FFA national championships.
The girls took the state title in April and will represent Oregon against as many as 50 other teams.
Part of the event will include a team flower arrangement trial, where the four team members will have 45 minutes to construct 10 arrangements — without knowing the theme beforehand.
"It could be a wedding, it could be a prom or it could be something random," said Rachel Kostman, Phoenix High agriculture teacher and the group's coach. "In theory they've been practicing since April, but the summer was kind of a break."
Robertson and Grace Prechtel, a Phoenix senior, were hard at work Friday afternoon, preparing arrangements they hope to sell today at their booth at the Phoenix Phestival.
Because Kostman has limited knowledge in floral design, the girls have received instruction from local florists, who have helped teach them how to design arrangements.
At nationals, arrangements will be judged on balance, symmetry and form, among other categories, Robertson said.
Teams will also have to participate in a mock job interview, a plant-identification quiz and a general floriculture knowledge test.
Robertson and Prechtel have had to practice for their competition largely without the other half of their team, as members Angelina Tibbets and Kaitlin Hertel graduated from Phoenix High in June and went on to college.
"It's hard to get a full practice in," said Robertson. "But it's also good because we get more one-on-one time with Kostman.
When competing at competitions, the girls said, many students have different strengths and weaknesses depending on each aspect of the competition.
"Some people are better at artistic things versus the general knowledge test," said Prechtel, who said she is good at both the knowledge test and plant identification.
Competitors must attempt to identify 50 out of 120 plants for one round of the all-day competition.
Since Kostman began teaching at Phoenix 11 years ago, her floriculture team has made it to nationals four times, helping to build a strong reputation for the Southern Oregon area.
Kostman said teams from Eagle Point, Central Point and Klamath Falls all did very well at the state competition hosted by Phoenix earlier this year.
To raise money to attend the competition, the team will hold a spaghetti feed and dessert auction at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 11, at the school.
Both Robertson and Prechtel said that while they enjoy the agriculture classes they've taken and being part of the floriculture team, they probably won't pursue flower arranging as a career.
"I might minor in something like this or get a job at a floral shop while going through college," said Robertson. "For me, it's really the experience and having the opportunity to compete."
Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.