At one time—mid 20th century—the rose fought with the marigold for the position of National U.S. Flower. The rose won in the 1980s, due to its huge lobby which has since disappeared into the Colombian jungle. Mr. David Burpee, our founder’s first-born, vigorously championed the marigold, even recruiting the great orator, gardener and Illinois native Senator Everett Dirksen, but they lost the public relations campaign by a narrow margin. Reagan signed it into a sort of proclamation, rather than a law. Especially in its hybrid, “tea” and cut-flower form, the rose is an unworthy national symbol for several reasons.
First, the well-ogled cultivars are all foreign from breeding to production to wholesale distribution. Their feet don’t touch our native soil, while the lion’s share of their profits go abroad. This is hardly appropriate for our national flower. Second, the rose has already represented kings, queens, dukes, duchesses, lords, ladies, courts, religious orders and military units of nations of all stripes. Strictly on patriotic grounds, the U.S. should have nothing to do with the rose as its national symbol. Third, there are a great number of native plants that actually originated in our botanically barren land.
Choicest among these is the sunflower. The Mexican-native marigold had its chance and lost. Now it is time for the sunflower to step up and kick some serious rose butt. Not only did the sunflower originate in eastern Colorado, it’s been an enormous blessing to the world economy, rivaling the rose in importance abroad, and blowing its petals off here in the U.S. The marigold is still a strikingly attractive, valuable garden plant, and a religious ceremonial plant in many parts of India. Yet it is dwarfed, in every way, by the sunflower.
While we’re at it, the tomato—pride of both Aztec and Yankee farmers—was supposed to be our native fruit, according to me, more than twenty years ago. I was even going to create a commodity futures market for them. I had meetings on Wall Street! If they can do it to frozen orange juice and bacon, I thought, they can do it to ‘Big Boy’. I was wrong.
Again, the apple—a cousin to the rose—became our national fruit, thanks to Ralph Waldo Emerson, who popularized the idea. Although no declaration has ever been made, it’s been quite unnecessary. “As American as banana pie” hardly cuts it, so to speak.
But now foreign apples, God bless them, are moving in for the kill. It began with knocking ‘Jonathan’ off his perch. By far the best-tasting apple, and as American as its pie, ‘Jonathan’ has had to move aside for “arriviste” yuppie foreigners like the overly sweet ‘Gala’. It’s as if ‘Jonathan’ were Mr. Chips, turning at the door to say goodbye to his loving throng of students, but there’s no one left. No one’s crazy for ‘Jonathan’ anymore.
In any case, the tomato—a North American original—deserves to be the national fruit of the USA, every bit as the sunflower must take its rightful place as our national flower.
Let’s try again!