HOLLAND, Mich. — It’s a kaleidoscope of colors that herald the spring season.
Welcome to Tulip Time – the annual festival featuring more than 100,000 tulips planted throughout the community of Holland, Mich.
“They're just really beautiful,” said visitors Mark and Mary Mennicke. “After being so cold and snowy for so long, all of a sudden, then, flowers bloom and that’s what’s really neat.”
It’s also a special celebration for the couple.
“The tulip festival coincides with our anniversary,” they said.
The tulips help provide this city of 34,000 people with a major economic boost come springtime.
“People say, ‘What's my target market?’ and I say, ‘My target market is birth to 99,’” said Gwen Auwerda, executive director of the Tulip Time Festival. “We did an economic impact study in 2018 and estimate that there's over 500,000 people that come into the city over a nine-day period with a $48 million economic impact.”
With all that on the line, organizers begin prepping for the festival a year in advance, setting the programming and dates, in order to make sure visitors and flowers come together seamlessly.
Nature, though, can be a fickle thing – which can be a big deal, especially when the local economy relies on a flower blooming at just the right time.
“Generally, it's the temperatures in the one or two months prior to the plants flowering, which determines whether it's going to be in earlier or later,” said Richard Primack, a professor of plant ecology at Boston University. “It's very challenging to set a festival, of something like a cherry blossom festival or a daffodil festival or a tulip festival, just based on a specific date.”
He said that is because fluctuating and mainly warming temperatures, particularly in late winter, are causing some flowers to bloom earlier than they have in the past.
Maps from NOAA show the areas of the country now experiencing warmer temperatures in February, when compared to just over a century ago – mainly in the northern tier.
“We do know that over time, because of a warming climate, that these festival dates, these spring festival dates, are happening earlier,” Primack said. “So, organizers of these festivals have to gradually shift the dates.”
The 93-year-old Tulip Time Festival realized they needed to do just that nine years ago.
“They did move the festival a week because they found that things were blooming earlier,” Auwerda said.
For now, though, they say the festival’s timing appears to be in a sweet spot.
“Always seems to be right on time,” she said.
It’s timing they hope continues to hold for those brilliant blooms.