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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

"I don't think the marigold has as many nationwide supporters, probably because nobody has sat down and thought about it at length," said Johanna Schneider, press secretary to Rep. Robert Michel (R-Ill.), who led the unsuccessful charge on behalf of the marigold.

"The marigold may not be the most beautiful flower," Schneider said, "but it's sturdy and it grows across the country and is fairly irrepressible."

This "she-has-a-great-personality" approach to the marigold goes way back.

The late Senate minority leader, Illinois Republican Everett Dirksen, a man with a voice like a honey-filled cement mixer, orated on behalf of his beloved marigold, dismissing the rose as "a shrub."

The marigold, he crooned in 1967, is "as sprightly as the daffodil, as colorful as the rose, as resolute as the zinnia, as delicate as the carnation, as haughty as the chrysanthemum, as aggressive as the petunia, as ubiquitous as the violet, as stealthy as the snapdragon. It beguiles the senses and ennobles the spirit of man."

But after Dirksen died in 1969, the rose juggernaut rolled over the marigold.

During a recent two-minute floor debate that more honestly qualified as a chat, Rep. Robert Garcia (D-N.Y.) warned that America could otherwise face a flower gap: "Many major Western countries have a national flower and it seems only fitting that the U.S. should join them."

Soon, thousands of Americans may sleep better at night, knowing that the rose is official, joining the bald eagle and the flag as America's symbols.

'Most Celebrated Flower'

The resolution's sponsor, Louisiana Democrat Lindy Boggs, called the rose "the most celebrated flower in poetry, in song, in peace emblems, in feelings of courage and valor and of course romance."

Its history is not all glorious. There were the 15th-Century Wars of the Roses, when English aristocrats slaughtered one another under the banners of the red rose or the white.

Ring-around-the-rosy, the child's playground chant, was said to be a superstitious incantation to keep away the black plague in the days when it ravaged Europe. And one legend has it that the "Yellow Rose of Texas" was in fact Mexican Gen. Santa Anna's mixed-race mistress, who supposedly entertained him the night before the Alamo.

But, hey, nobody's perfect.

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