Springtime, Summertime, Autumn, Wintertime … Dreamtime: State FlowersBy Larry Rettig (LarryR)
March 27, 2013
call it my dreamtime, sort of a fifth season that exists in my mind's eye and usually spans the months of January and February. During this time, nursery catalogs (both hard copy and online), gardening magazines that have accumulated during the growing season, gardening books, and garden seminars take priority in my otherwise busy schedule. I drink in the alluring images of beautiful plants and flowers (and ignore, for the moment, the fact that those photos don't reflect the real world). Dreamtime is a wonderful antidote for those wintertime blahs!
I explore avenues of horticulture that are new to me and think about the gardening year ahead. What new plants do I want to try? Will I have room to plant them? Do I want to redo any of the many beds in our gardens? Do I want to add new ones? Do I want to have any lawn left at all? What about an arbor or a trellis? Do I want to create that gravel garden I've been thinking about? Which garden bed will I give up if I do?
During the next several months, I'll share with you some of the ideas and plants that have occupied my dreamtime and that I've decided to pursue this year. In this first installment, I'm fulfilling a resolution that I've had for many years but have never followed through on: I'm going to plant my state flower in one of my beds.
Iowa's state flower is the wild rose (see image above). In 1897 the Iowa Legislature designated this bone-hardy rose found throughout the state as the official state flower. Its image had recently been used to decorate the silver service presented by the state to the battleship USS Iowa, so it had already acquired an elevated stature in the minds of Iowa legislators.
USS Iowa silver service incorporates Iowa's state flower
Photo courtesy of The State Historical Society of Iowa
The practice of gifting silver service to ships and their officers goes back in history to the time of the American Revolutionary War. The city of Boston at that time gave a tea service to both the USS Boston and the USS Constitution. (To go with the well-known tea party held there in 1773, perhaps?)
Which wild rose is it?
The Iowa Legislature didn't designate the rose by its horticultural name but simply called it "wild rose." There are actually three separate rose species growing wild in Iowa. They are Rosa blanda, R. arkansana, and R. carolina. It's extremely difficult to tell them apart unless you're a skilled horticulturist. They are shrubby, very similar in appearance, have single pink blossoms, and have a tendency to hybridize in the wild. All three are found along roadsides and in prairies, meadows, and open woodlands.
R. blanda is most prevalent in the northern half of the state. It grows to four feet and blooms from June through August and sometimes into early September. The hips resemble small apples. R. arkansana is more widespread and somewhat shorter, growing up to three feet tall. It blooms in June only and is quite fragrant. R. carolina is found statewide, thrives in dry soil, blooms in early summer, is also quite fragrant, and is often under two feet tall.
All three roses served as food for Native Americans and pioneers. When other food sources were scarce, they ate the hips, flowers, and leaves. Wild rose hips continue to be an important source of food for Iowa wildlife.
Some state flowers have a quirky history
- The fate of state flowers in Washington State and Montana is interwoven with women's suffrage. Long before women in the state of Washington and elsewhere were allowed to vote in national elections, they were given the sole right to vote on a state flower in 1892. More than 15,000 women voted--in official voting booths--53% of whom cast their ballots for the Coast Rhododendron (see table below). In Montana, the Women's Christian Temperance Union lobbied the state legislature to establish a state flower. Legislators followed through in 1895, when both men and women in the state were allowed to vote for a state flower, the winner being Bitterroot (see table below).
- The red carnation is another state flower with a political history. The Ohio state legislature chose it in 1904 to honor former President William McKinley, a native Ohioan who was assassinated in 1901. McKinley liked to wear red carnations in the buttonhole on the lapel of his jacket. (see table below and my article: Floral Cookery and Politics)
- Maine's state "flower" is not a flower at all, and is composed of two plant parts instead of just one: the white pine's tassel and its cone (see table below). What's more, neither one is a flower. Plants with flowers are classified as angiosperms and those with cones instead of flowers as gymnosperms. To be technically correct, Maine's state flower is actually a state gymnosperm. The pine's tassel is simply the growing tip on its branches.
- The roots of Montana's state flower, Lewisia rediviva (see table below), were used by Native Americans as a sort of "trail mix." On the warpath and on hunting expeditions, braves took with them food patties made of a mixture of pulverized Lewisia root, deer fat and moss. A mere sackful of L. rediviva roots was so highly prized that it was often traded for a horse.
- As with so many other things, Texas can claim that it's truly bigger when it comes to naming its state flower. It has five and counting! In 1901 the National Society of Colonial Dames of America in Texas recommended to the Texas Legislature that Lupinus subcarnosus, known as Bluebonnet or Buffalo Clover, be declared the state flower. It was made law that March with no known opposition. Soon afterward, though, dissatisfaction with the choice surfaced. L. subcarnosus was criticized as being too puny and much less showy than L. texensis, which was much more widespread and a favorite subject of artists. Off and on for the next 70 years, the Legislature was pressured to change the name of its flower to L. texensis. Not wanting to offend either side in this burning issue, legislators put off taking any action until 1971. In that year they named both Lupinus species as the state flower. In a very wise move, they also declared that "any other variety of bluebonnet not heretofore recorded" would be considered the state flower as well. That wisdom has served them well. In the interim, three more Bluebonnet species have been discovered and, due the to wording of the 1971 law, they have become the state flower as well (see table below).
- Indiana had a particularly difficult time in coming up with a state floral emblem. It all began in 1913 with a concurrent resolution in the General Assembly, stating that the carnation was to be the state flower. Protests ensued because the carnation is not native anywhere in the state. On a second try, the General Assembly passed a resolution in 1923, naming the tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) blossom as the official state flower. Again there was discontent, this time because the flower is not at all showy. The third try unfortunately was not the charm either. In 1931 the flower was changed to the zinnia. Rumors began to spread that a certain grower of zinnia seed influenced the vote, but the zinnia was able to hang in there until 1957. In that year the General Assembly once more took up the thorny issue of the state flower. Citizens were anticipating the naming of the dogwood blossom, since that was the choice of a special Senate committee. That recommendation, however, was totally ignored by the legislative body which, instead, passed a resolution naming the peony as the state flower. Again there were rumors, this time that a certain peony grower, who also happened to be a state representative, had influenced the vote. So far the peony has held its own. It has now been the state flower for over 50 years (see table below).
The table below lists the flower for each state and the year in which it was established as the state flower. Why not spring for a little floral patriotism this year and grow your state flower? Information on growing each flower is just a mouse click away.
Rocky Mountain Columbine
Hawaiian Hibiscus (ma‘o hau hele)
Wild Prairie Rose
White pine tassel and cone
Pink and white lady's slipper
Wild Prairie Rose
1901 & 1971
National Parks Service
My thanks to my fellow DG members for the use of their photos
Click here for a text only version of this article
|THE ROSE OF IOWA|
Hast seen the wild rose of the West,
The sweetest child of morn ?
Its feet the dewy fields have pressed,
Its breath is on the corn.
The gladsome prairie rolls and sweeps
Like billows to the sea,
While on its breast the red rose keeps
The white rose company.
The wild, wild rose whose fragrance dear
To every breeze is flung,
The same wild rose that blossomed here
--S. H. M. Byers (1838-1933)
© Larry Rettig 2010