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Jack Smith

Readers--drunk on dandelion wine--intercede with ideas for national flower, but they don't get to root of question

June 16, 1986|Jack Smith

My proposal that the geranium (pelargonium) be named our national flower has provoked contemptuous disagreement from readers who fancy other breeds.

"I certainly hope you were in jest," writes Linda Umstead of Huntington Beach, "when you mentioned the geranium as a contender for the national flower.

"A geranium is a perfectly ghastly plant, barely better than a weed , and is a blight upon whatever landscape upon which it happens to appear. Its smell is repugnant enough to fail to interest even the bees , and it invariably looks scruffy and unkempt, even in flower boxes. Put this notion right out of your mind! "

I noted that proponents of the marigold and the rose have lobbied for years to win recognition as the national flower for their favorites, but the issue today lies stalemated in Congress, the House having voted for the marigold, the Senate for the rose.

Though it sounds more cynical than serious, Rabbi Alfred Wolf has a provocative solution:

"The geranium as our National Flower? God forbid!

"The logical solution for the deadlock between House and Senate is the carnation; for that's what we are: a car nation . What flower could be more appropriate than the one which in its very name, witnesses to America's great love affair?"

Rabbi Wolf's suggestion is not without merit, though I think it rather unsporting of a man in his favorable position to invoke the Lord's intercession.

Alma Johnson of South Pasadena has a more popular suggestion:

"I nominate the dandelion for our national flower," she says. "Its blossom is pure gold, and its seeds form beautiful little balloons. Until recently I removed them from my back yard but now I let them go to seed and I hope for more.

"The plant is not only beautiful; its leaves are edible, cooked or in salads. As a child in Indiana I heard my elders refer to dandelion wine, also."

"What's wrong with the dandelion?" asks Caroline T. Bales of Alhambra. "It grows wild everywhere. The flower is beautiful. The leaves are edible."

"I nominate the dandelion," writes Edna G. Kunze. "Dandelions can be found in each state of our United States. They flourish, are tough, plentiful, and persistent. On the East Coast, the freeway or throughway medians are colorful with dandelions. . . . It is sturdy, like us, and holds its own. . . ."

"Why should the Congress select a national flower," asks Brian Marriott of Fountain Valley, "when we already have a national flower? There is a flower that grows in every city and state in this country. It is found in the countryside and the suburbs and alongside every freeway, highway and road. . . . The government would not have to spend one cent of the taxpayer's money for this flower. I am speaking of the beautiful yellow dandelion. . . ."

Surely no one has written with more affection of the dandelion than Ray Bradbury, who made "Dandelion Wine" the title of his warm and poignant autobiography of growing up in Waukegan, Ill. (named Green Town in the book).

He recalls the day of the harvest, with his grandfather standing on the porch like the captain of a ship, commanding his crew.

" 'Grandpa, are they ready? Now?'

"Grandfather pinched his chin. 'Five hundred, a thousand, two thousand easy. Yes, yes, a good supply. Pick 'em easy, pick 'em all. A dime for every sack delivered to the press. . . .' "

Ray and his brother bent to the task.

" 'Every year,' said Grandfather. 'They run amuck; I let them. Pride of lions in the yard. Stare, and they burn a hole in your retina. A common flower, a weed that no one sees, yes. But for us, a noble thing, the dandelion.'

"So, plucked carefully, in sacks, the dandelions were carried below. The cellar dark glowed with their arrival. The wine press stood open, cold. A rush of flowers warmed it. The press, replaced, its screw rotated, twirled by Grandfather, squeezed gently on the crop."

Then through the winter, the dandelion wine, put up in ketchup bottles by grandmother, sustained them through their colds and miseries.

"Dandelion wine. The words were summer on the tongue. The wine was summer caught and stoppered. . . ."

What more could we want of a national flower than that it grows in beauty and profusion, and that it can be caught and bottled on a summer day to warm us through our winters?

It looks like a grass-roots movement for the dandelion.

But I haven't given up.

The geranium does grow like a weed, but then so does America. Rampant growth is this country's main trait. Look at all our overcrowded cities, big and small. And then notice what it is that makes so many of them liveable, gives a touch of beauty and color to them no matter how tacky their construction and how sordid their neighborhoods: the geranium.

Easy to grow, never failing, burgeoning from every crevice, its leaves giving a refreshing green to the hard glare of stucco and cement, its petals so rich and variegated in color, and so profuse. Spilling from a box below an upper window, the lowly geranium even gives a romantic beauty to the seamy roadside motel.

Down in Baja, at our house above Santo Tomas Bay, geraniums almost cover the southern wall so that when we approach, sometimes in the morning, the sun shines on the petals, still damp with dew, and the shattering color welcomes us home.

But they are controversial: Bees hate 'em; caterpillars love 'em.

I wonder how Congress feels about 'em.

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