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A Bouquet for the Country's Fairest Flower : The Rose Is Picked; the Marigold Wilts

October 05, 1986|PATT MORRISON and BETTY CUNIBERTI | Times Staff Writers

Washington lawmakers have a little message for the Pasadena burghers who run the Rose Parade: This bud's for them.

Rejecting the charms of the marigold, the dogwood and the corn tassel, the House of Representatives, after a century of fevered debate and partisan petal pushing, recently declared the rose to be the United States' official national flower.

The folks at the Tournament of Roses headquarters in Pasadena, where the rose has been top blossom for nearly 100 years, were pleased that Congress had finally seen what they've known for so long.

'Certainly Fitting'

"It's nice that after 200-plus years, we finally have a national flower," executive director John French said. "It is certainly fitting, and we certainly are proud to be part of the national rose floriculture."

Although the resolution, which had already passed the Senate, must be signed into law by President Reagan, it is unlikely he will veto it; after all, the White House is graced by the Rose Garden, not the Petunia Garden. He is expected to make it official by Tuesday.

Reagan could hardly object to such a loyal posy: Over the years, growers have cultivated a Governor's Lady Gloria rose, for George Deukmejian's wife, a Pat Nixon rose, a First Lady Nancy rose, and a Mister Lincoln rose--Republican blooms all.

In signing the bill, Reagan will agree with the Ayatollah Khomeini on at least one thing: The rose is Iran's national flower, too.

The first roses were said to have been noted in Asia Minor 2,000 years before Christ. Fossilized roses, 35 million years old, have been found in Colorado and Oregon, and roses of lesser age keep turning up in cedar chests and wedding scrapbooks.

Thorn in Congress' Side

Lawmakers did not specify any particular rose as the national favorite, agreeing with Oakland-born poetess Gertrude Stein, who gave the flower her mystifying benediction with the line, "Rose is a rose is a rose."

As legislation goes, this one was a pussycat, with 272 co-sponsors in the House and 54 in the Senate.

But for all the rose's immense popularity--it's easy for poets to rhyme with, easy for tattoo artists to draw, and easy for scientists to point to as an example of natural selection, a fragrant beauty with stickers--the national flower issue has been a thorn in Congress' side for nearly a century, with at least 70 resolutions favoring almost as many flowers introduced in Congress.

Carl W. Swanson, the immediate past president of the Marigold Society of America, criticized the rose as being too expensive and difficult to grow, and possessing too many ties to Europe to be considered the perfect all-American bloom.

"Just because a very sophisticated connoisseur flower was selected as the national flower doesn't mean we are going to stop growing marigolds," sniffed Swanson, a retail florist in Warren, Mich., who says he can't get his own roses to grow.

The marigold, Swanson claimed, is the flower for all races, creeds, religions, ages, economic classes and the most beleaguered minority of all: lousy gardeners. It's the American melting pot posy. Everybody's bud. There are "billions" of marigolds in America, Swanson estimated, as opposed to only 40 million rose bushes sold to home gardeners every year.

A Mother's Day Staple

"A group of senior citizens can buy a pack of marigold seeds very inexpensively, or children can plant seeds in a cup and watch them bloom and give them to their mother for Mother's Day," Swanson said.

About one-fifth of the roses sold in the United States are imported, according to rose trade groups, and Swanson pointed out that much of the breeding of roses has taken place in Europe.

The marigold has been bred almost entirely in America. And Swanson doesn't know of any importing of marigolds.

But Roses Inc. vice president James C. Krone might speculate that marigolds just aren't worth importing.

"I'm not really excited about sending my wife a dozen marigolds," said Krone, whose group represents 80% of the nation's greenhouse rose growers. Krone scoffs at accusations that the rose is too expensive.

"I don't think of them as being expensive," said Krone of Haslett, Mich. "I can go and buy one rose in a box or a bud vase for $5 or less."

Dueling bills were introduced in Congress last year, one proposing the rose for the national flower and one for the marigold. Hearings were held. Witnesses testified.

The roses won, Swanson said, because they have full-time, big-time lobbyists.

"I'm disappointed," Swanson said. "I did not have the time or the money to develop an organization to do it."

Unsuccessful Charge

The Marigold Society of America boasts only 500 members and their legislative efforts were strictly volunteer, "a love-type situation," Swanson said. Roses Inc. represents most of the domestic rose growers, who sell 452 million roses a year. And there are, indeed, paid rose lobbyists who are currently lobbying for tariffs to rescue the rose from an ever-increasing import market.

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