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HOUSTON (Reuters) - An annual homecoming rite of passage is unfolding in Texas high schools this month with the presentations of heavily ornamented corsages called "mums" that stretch from neck to knees and are festooned with trinkets often weighing several pounds.
The practice of exchanging homecoming corsages originated in the early 20th century when college men gave their homecoming dates a single, live chrysanthemum with a few short lengths of ribbon to pin on their dress.
Since then, the now apron-size mums - typically with no natural flowers - that are given by high school boys to their homecoming dates have grown bigger, more ornate and more expensive.
This has led some parents, students and school administrators to question whether the tradition has gotten out of hand and fostered what could be seen as an adornment competition among students.
The culture and pageantry of Texas high school homecoming activities now reach the level of a mini-Mardi Gras with royal courts, dances, parades, pep rallies and nearly whole-body faux-floral displays.
The homecoming mums of today are jumbo, synthetic chrysanthemums. Yards of ribbon, streamers and feather boas cascade from the arrangement with decorative trinkets, cow-bells, bows, photo frames, whistles and lights attached.
The cost for custom mums can reach $75 to $250. The corsage becomes a lifelong keepsake with many girls mounting the arrangement on their bedroom wall until they move out of their parents' home.
"Over the last few years, it has gotten popular to even add hot pink, lime green, purple or turquoise to the mums," said Amy Fogarty, co-owner of the Mum Shop in Dallas, which opened 31 years ago.
The store has sold more than 8,000 creations this homecoming season and specializes in baubles that represent each student’s interests, including miniature comedy and tragedy masks, guitars, paint palettes, basketballs and megaphones.
It is considered a high school senior's privilege to have a mum or garter in all white with silver accents, while underclassmen stick to school colors.
"Everyone has different likes and dislikes, and what is 'over the top' to one person may be the 'norm' to another," said Misti Bull-Brezina, whose son attends Friendswood High School, outside of Houston.
The student council at Rick Reedy High School in the Dallas suburb of Frisco, Texas offered a simpler, charitable alternative this year. Students can purchase a single, fresh chrysanthemum reminiscent of the original mums for $50.
Half of the proceeds goes to The Birthday Party Project, which hosts birthday parties for children who live in homeless shelters.
Feedback has been positive, but many students still opt for the modern mum, according to David Westhora, biology teacher and student council sponsor at the school.
"In the end, what matters most is that those who want the large mums can have them, those who want more simple, real flower mums can have them, or both," Westhora said.
Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Will Dunham