Paul Dean

Soft-Petaling the Rose: It Lacks Pluck

October 11, 1986|Paul Dean

We have always been quite specific in deciding national tokens.

When ayes and nays were culled in 1782 the nod went not to any old bird, but precisely to one bird, the bald eagle.

Baseball is the national pastime and there's no doubt about that--even if the Dodgers and the Angels did appear to be playing different games this year.

There is no ambiguity to the design of the national seal, the phrasing of the national motto, the lyrics of the national anthem, the express pattern of the national flag and the unalterable progress of the national debt.

Yet suddenly we're settling for generalities and "the rose" as America's national flower.

And to Californians, in a state that's by far the rosiest in the Union, during the October flowering which is always brighter and better than spring, on a weekend where Los Angeles' rose gardens are ablaze for walkers from the Huntington Library to Rose Hills Memorial Park . . . well, reducing a rose to generics demonstrates a cloddish lack of precision.

Congress has specified no color for the national rose. No variety has been nominated. No suggestion of a preference for hybrid tea, floribunda or grandiflora. Not even a hint to which of many hundred species and cultivars best represents the resolve, verve, grit and other admirable qualities we see in ourselves as a people.

Of course, with more than 150 species to choose from, and with sensitivities between the states an obvious consideration, maybe discretion was the better part of politics in not establishing a particular rose. Let's face it, Sweet Surrender and Red Masterpiece wouldn't do at all. Not with the Iceland Summit upon us.

Yankee Doodle would curdle the South while Arkansas would upset the North. Tiffany smacks of a class system and higher taxes. Buff Beauty would offend somebody's blue laws. Chrysler Imperial sounds like another accolade for Lee Iacocca.

Peace, once voted the world favorite rose, could make it--except it's chicken-fat yellow with pink edges.

Miss All-American Beauty--too sexist, and there's the risk of bringing Bert Parks out of retirement.

Holy Toledo, Choo Choo Centennial, Cupcake or Luvvie?


This current discussion about the national flower has made it quite fashionable to quote Gertrude Stein (and quite fatuously, because I'm not sure anybody knows if she really meant what she really meant), with the implication that it doesn't matter if this country has one rose over another.

I think it does matter.

Further, as a solid means of elevating national pride, Washington should consider a contest to determine which rose should be our emblem. A garnet rose with snow-white slashes. The world's first blue. Silvery cream with crimson edging for a flair of perennial renaissance. The colors and interpretations are endless.

Armstrong Nurseries of Monrovia--the world-class rosarians who brought us Olympiad, Governor's Lady Gloria (Deukmejian) and First Lady Nancy (Reagan) but let Pat Nixon escape to be patented by a French grower--could donate a name for the national rose. New Glory. America. Liberty.

Such a contest would produce a fury of horticulture unmatched since Johnny Appleseed flipped his last pit on Illinois.

President Reagan, unfortunately, made no mention of this on Tuesday when he signed our national flower into law.

Nor, said a White House spokesman, did he sneak in a commitment to one species of rose.

Thank heavens he resisted the temptation to scribble First Lady Nancy as an addendum to the bill.

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