Each US state has an official state flower. These were carefully chosen to represent a state’s spirit and its people’s character. While some are endemic to each state, others have been imported from elsewhere. A flower does not have to be native to the land to be nominated, while most of these flowers have been growing in these areas since people can remember, some of the current state flowers did not even originate in the US. These are plants that were simply brought to the US, thrived well in the area, and were chosen as the state flower because they represent the spirit of the people living there.
The practice of choosing a flower to represent each state started in 1893 during the Chicago World Columbian Exposition. During the event, the group World’s Congress of Representative Women at the exposition’s “Women’s Building”, brought up the idea of creating a National Garland composed of flowers representing each state. Soon after the National Floral Emblem Society was created and each state went about the business of choosing a state flower.
How Are Flowers Chosen?
According to Glynda Nord in her book Official State Flowers and Trees: Their Unique Stories, the history behind the selection of state flowers and trees is rich with political intrigues, legends, deceptions, and humor. This makes the story behind the selection for each flower intriguing, interesting, and unique.
Over the course of a century, each state went through the arduous (at times) task of choosing a flower. A few American territories like Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the United States Virgin Islands have also chosen an official flower to represent their people and their islands.
Most of these flowers were nominated by a group of citizens or an organization after casting votes. This is the case for California’s golden poppy. In Nord’s book, she details how in 1890 the California State Floral Society voted for the contenders. The final three nominees were the matilija poppy, mariposa lily, and the California golden poppy. After tallying the votes the golden poppy won by a landslide. Soon after, residents of California acknowledged the golden poppy as their state flower but the move to make it more official through legislation proved more difficult and time-consuming.
It took over a decade of lobbying before a poppy bill was eventually introduced on the Senate floor. In January 1903 Senate Bill No. 251 designating the golden poppy as the official state flower of California was finally passed. “On March 2, 1903, Senator Smith and Assemblyman Bliss, who introduced the bill, placed a mound of poppies on the desk of the presiding officer of the Senate,” Nord narrates.
Most Unique: Cactus Blossom and Pine Cone
While many of these flowers look like the usual colorful petaled ones growing on shrubs, branches, or alongside fruits, some are so unique they don't grow on typical branches alongside stalks and leave, others aren't even botanically considered a flower. While they don't look like the rest in the list, they still perfectly capture the state’s personality and their people’s spirit and character.
The most unique of them all is the Saguaro, Arizona’s official state flower. Considering Arizona’s terrain and climate it shouldn’t come as a surprise that their official flower grows on a cactus. Saguaro is a cactus blossom that grows on the largest cactus in America. They thrive well in the hot Arizona desert most especially in the Sonoran Desert located in the Southern part of the state. The creamy white blossom with waxy petals often appears on the trunk of the saguaro cactus in May and June. They open up at night and release a fragrant scent.
Another unique entry is Maine’s official state flower—the white pine cone and tassel. In 1895, the residents of Maine were presented with three nominees: the goldenrod; apple blossom; and the pine cone and tassel. Although not technically a flower, the decision to go with the white cone and tassel came as no surprise since Maine is known for its abundance of pine forests earning the state the nickname ‘pine tree state’.
US National Flower
In 1985 the US Senate passed a resolution requesting the president of the United States to declare a national floral emblem. On November 20, 1986, in a ceremony held at the White House Rose Garden, President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation making the rose the official US national flower.
During the ceremony, the President explained the decision explaining that the rose has been in existence in America for thousands of years based on fossil records. The American people have also held a special place in their hearts for roses, cultivated them in gardens, and shared these flowers with people they love. It is seen in American art, music, and depicted in literature he said. “It is a symbol of life and love and devotion, of beauty and eternity."
Aside from a national flower the US also has a national tree. During the National Arbor Day Foundation, twenty-one candidates were nominated to be the country’s official tree. The oak tree came out the winner after tallying the votes and the results were announced during a tree-planting ceremony held in April 2001 in Washington DC. Four years later it was made official when a Congressional Legislation finally designated the oak tree as America’s national tree.