HOLLAND, Mich. (AP) - The annual Tulip Time festival in West Michigan is looking like it might be more of a "stemfest" this year after unseasonably warm weather encouraged the flowers to bloom earlier than usual.
The parks department in Holland, a city known for its Dutch heritage which has hosted the festival for more than 80 years, estimated Monday that about 40 percent of the 500,000 flowers planted will be in bloom next week. But many more will be past their prime.
Nevertheless, Tulip Time organizers are embracing the otherwise troublesome presence of so many flowerless stems; they'll start selling $10 "stemfest" shirts and $1 buttons on Friday, the day before the weeklong festival opens.
"I hope people have fun with it," Susan Zalnis, Tulip Time's marketing manager, told The Holland Sentinel.
The black T-shirts depict a wilting white tulip missing its petals. Festival officials first started talking about ordering the merchandise in March, when temperatures were in the 80s. Then the weather cooled off and they were not sure when the blooms would appear.
"We thought we might just keep them in the box," Zalnis said of the merchandise.
There are only 300 of the shirts in stock at the Tulip Time offices, Zalnis said, so they could be a hot commodity.
A Holland business, meanwhile, is selling its own "Stem Fest" clothing. Harbor Wear is offering $27 sweatshirts and $16 T-shirts for the Tulip Time festivities. Penny Doan, team leader at the store, said they sold similar items about a decade ago.
"We had an extra warm spring, and used to have Tulip Time a week later," Doan told The Grand Rapids Press. "This year, we definitely needed them with that warm weather in March."
Regardless of how many flowers are in bloom, Tulip Time Executive Director Gwen Auwerda said they're expecting a good festival.
"Some visitors will come to Holland and focus on the remaining tulips; others will only see the stems," Auwerda said. "It's all a matter of one's perspective."
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