It was a hot flower bed of controversy! Well, sort of…. Title 36 of the US Code, section 303, designates the rose as our national floral emblem. However, did you know that more than 70 separate bills were introduced in the Congress before the rose was chosen? The dogwood blossom, carnation, corn tassel, columbine, aster and marigold all were fierce competitors for the title, but the rose won the battle in the end.
The marigold posed the stiffest competition in its bid to become the national flower. But it did so only because of one man’s efforts. In 1959, David Burpee began a campaign to have the marigold designated as our nation’s floral emblem. He pursed this effort over the next decade by sending more than 160 letters to Senator Everett M. Dirksen. Dirksen became a strong advocate for the marigold with his annual speech in the Senate becoming somewhat of a rite of spring in the chamber. Despite submitting numerous resolutions, he was unable to convince his fellow senators that the marigold should be the floral emblem of the nation. Dirksen pursed the matter with such zest that after his death a single marigold was placed on his desk in the Senate chamber by Senator Margaret Chase Smith.
Why was it appropriate for Senator Smith to place a marigold on Dirksen’s desk? Senator Smith, the first woman to serve in both houses of the Congress, was a staunch supporter of the rose. She was known for wearing a single red rose daily on her outfit. She remarked that her fellow Senators would ask her if she had forgotten something when she occasionally walked through the Capitol without a rose on her lapel. Smith stated that tradition in the 1930’s after a neighbor gave her a brooch with a small vile that was intended to carry a flower. She clipped a rose from her garden, inserted it into the vile, and a tradition was born. Smith felt it added “a bit of color” to the dreary chamber of the United States Senate. She first submitted The Rose Resolution to the Senate in 1955. Although the resolution passed in the Senate, it was not a matter of interest to anyone in the House. However, in 1986, Representative Hale Boggs and Senator Smith both submitted resolutions in their respective chambers. The matter was quietly and quickly passed. The following statement was made by President Reagan as he signed Proclamation 5574 on November 20, 1986:
“Americans have always loved the flowers with which God decorates our land. More often than any other flower, we hold the rose dear as the symbol of life and love and devotion, of beauty and eternity. For the love of man and woman, for the love of mankind and God, for the love of country, Americans who would speak the language of the heart do so with a rose. We see proofs of this everywhere. The study of fossils reveals that the rose has existed in America for age upon age. We have always cultivated roses in our gardens. Our first President, George Washington, bred roses, and a variety he named after his mother is still grown today. The White House itself boasts a beautiful Rose Garden. We grow roses in all our fifty States. We find roses throughout our art, music, and literature. We decorate our clebrations and parades with roses. Most of all, we present roses to those we love, and we lavish them on our altars, our civil shrines, and the final resting places of our honored dead. The American people have long held a special place in their hearts for roses. Let us continue to cherish them, to honor the love and devotion they represent, and to bestow them on all we love just as God has bestowed them on us. The Congress, by Senate Joint Resolution 159 [Pub. L. 99-449, now this section], has designated the rose as the National Floral Emblem of the United States and authorized and requested the President to issue a proclamation declaring this fact.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, RONALD REAGAN, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim the rose as the National Floral Emblem of the United States of America.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twentieth day of November, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and eighty-six, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and eleventh. Ronald Reagan.”
The Margaret Chase Smith Rose, named after the Senator, was later bred by Walter D Brownell and introduced in the 1960’s. It boasts spectacular red blooms that often reach four inches in size.
Jacqueline Kennedy established the White House Rose Garden (which is featured in the attached image). The current rose garden was designed by Rachel Lambert in 1961, and it replaced the original garden designed by Teddy Roosevelt’s wife, Edith in 1902. The garden was completed after President Kennedy’s assassination. President Nixon’s daughter, Tricia, was married in the White House Rose Garden in 1971. Later, the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden was established next to the Rose Garden.
You might think that the controversy over the designation of our national flower is over. Well, think again! I found numerous articles whose authors thought it was inappropriate for Great Britain and the United States to share the same national floral emblem. In 2009, George Ball, current chairman of W. Atlee Burpee & Company said the rose is a foreign born and bred flower, and the sunflower should take its place as the national flower. He remarked in his blog, “Now is the time for the sunflower to step up and kick some serious rose butt.”