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JACK SMITH

Bloomless Country : America Has Another National Emergency to Nip in the Bud

June 01, 1986|JACK SMITH

It isn't news, but I have just learned from a reader, Gordon A. Marten, that the United States has no national flower.

Marten writes with a sense of national disgrace and failure but not without hope.

He happens to be a marigold man himself.

Evidently, the nation suffers this lack of a floral symbol because Congress has failed to agree on one.

In April, 1979, perhaps because it was spring, the House of Representatives adopted HJ Resolution 309, naming the marigold as the national flower; but in September, 1985, the Senate adopted SJ Resolution 159 naming the rose.

And there it stands. For the nation to have a national flower, House and Senate must agree.

Meanwhile, proponents of the rose have been fighting proponents of the marigold with the emotional ferocity, if not the bloodshed, of the Red Rose of Lancaster and the White Rose of York in England's dreadful War of the Roses.

In a sense it should be no contest. What flower can compete with the rose in literature, legend and song?

In Bartlett's Familiar Quotations the word rose appears in the index 80 times, and roses 28. Marigolds appears but once, in a reference to John Keats' poem "I Stood Tip-toe." The quoted line reads:

Open afresh your round of starry folds, Ye ardent marigolds!

A lovely line, indeed, but hardly enough to offset the torrents of gush written by poets and lyricists through the ages about the symbolism of the rose in love, war and passion.

As I say, I had been ignorant of this anguished struggle over the years that it lay in Congress, on the table, while our dedicated legislators busied themselves with such supposedly more important matters as the Soviet problem, Israel, Libya, Nicaragua, El Salvador, the budget, taxes, and politics as usual.

Congress failed to adopt a national flower in time for our Bicentennial, Marten writes, "mainly because it was divided between the rose and the marigold. It is now 10 years later and we still do not have a national flower."

Though he is committed to the marigold, Marten admits that if the issue were put on the ballot today the rose would win. "According to the Rose Society, there are more than 4,000 songs with rose in the title. I can't think of a single song with marigold in the title. Is there a Marigold Bowl or a Marigold Parade?"

But he is not discouraged. He points out that the marigold could be ours alone, since it is not the flower of any state or any other country, while the rose is the national flower of England and five other nations, including two behind the Iron Curtain.

What's more, the marigold is an American native. Hernando Cortes found it growing in Mexico. He took it back to Spain, where the devout soon began to place it at the altar of the Virgin Mary and called it Mary's gold. Thus, marigold.

Marten encloses a sheaf of literature generated by the marigold people in the national campaign, including an inspiring message from Carl W. Swanson, president of the Marigold Society of America, making the point that the rose is expensive, the flower of the rich and elite, while the marigold is a people's flower, within the means of everyone.

"A child can purchase a package of seeds," he says, "plant the seeds and watch the plants grow. Within a short time the plant blooms and continues to bloom all season. Flowers can be picked and more will bloom. How many of you have seen marigolds planted in plastic cups and brought to Mom on Mother's Day? That could never be done with a rose."

The controversy has even reached the White House, and brought from President Reagan one of those subtly equivocal statements that appear to be in favor of both sides at once.

In a message to the fifth annual convention of the Marigold Society he said:

"The Marigold Society includes men, women and young people who are avid gardeners and concerned citizens dedicated to the improvement of their gardens and the appearance of their communities. . . .

"As President, I can't take sides on a favorite national flower, but your choice is certainly high on my list. The late, beloved Sen. Everett Dirksen made numerous attempts to get the marigold named the national flower, but he was always opposed by another great senator of my party, Margaret Chase Smith, who championed her favorite, the rose. Both of them had a good idea."

I quote Mr. Reagan's statement at this late date because I don't remember reading it in our paper, and I think it likely that it was overlooked by our busy Washington bureau.

To my mind, though, it is significant that the President favors both the rose and the marigold.

My feeling is--what's wrong with the geranium?

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