The Rose Blows

At one time—mid 20th century—the rose fought with the marigold for the position of National U.S. Flower.  The rose won in the 1980s, due to its huge lobby which has since disappeared into the Colombian jungle.  Mr. David Burpee, our founder’s first-born, vigorously championed the marigold, even recruiting the great orator, gardener and Illinois native Senator Everett Dirksen, but they lost the public relations campaign by a narrow margin.  Reagan signed it into a sort of proclamation, rather than a law.  Especially in its hybrid, “tea” and cut-flower form, the rose is an unworthy national symbol for several reasons.

First, the well-ogled cultivars are all foreign from breeding to production to wholesale distribution.  Their feet don’t touch our native soil, while the lion’s share of their profits go abroad.  This is hardly appropriate for our national flower.  Second, the rose has already represented kings, queens, dukes, duchesses, lords, ladies, courts, religious orders and military units of nations of all stripes.  Strictly on patriotic grounds, the U.S. should have nothing to do with the rose as its national symbol.  Third, there are a great number of native plants that actually originated in our botanically barren land.

Choicest among these is the sunflower.  The Mexican-native marigold had its chance and lost.  Now it is time for the sunflower to step up and kick some serious rose butt.  Not only did the sunflower originate in eastern Colorado, it’s been an enormous blessing to the world economy, rivaling the rose in importance abroad, and blowing its petals off here in the U.S. The marigold is still a strikingly attractive, valuable garden plant, and a religious ceremonial plant in many parts of India. Yet it is dwarfed, in every way, by the sunflower.

While we’re at it, the tomato—pride of both Aztec and Yankee farmers—was supposed to be our native fruit, according to me, more than twenty years ago.  I was even going to create a commodity futures market for them.  I had meetings on Wall Street!  If they can do it to frozen orange juice and bacon, I thought, they can do it to ‘Big Boy’.  I was wrong.

Again, the apple—a cousin to the rose—became our national fruit, thanks to Ralph Waldo Emerson, who popularized the idea.  Although no declaration has ever been made, it’s been quite unnecessary.  “As American as banana pie” hardly cuts it, so to speak.

But now foreign apples, God bless them, are moving in for the kill.  It began with knocking ‘Jonathan’ off his perch.  By far the best-tasting apple, and as American as its pie, ‘Jonathan’ has had to move aside for “arriviste” yuppie foreigners like the overly sweet ‘Gala’.  It’s as if  ‘Jonathan’ were Mr. Chips, turning at the door to say goodbye to his loving throng of students, but there’s no one left.  No one’s crazy for ‘Jonathan’ anymore.

In any case, the tomato—a North American original—deserves to be the national fruit of the USA, every bit as the sunflower must take its rightful place as our national flower.

Let’s try again!

This entry was posted on Monday, June 15th, 2009 at 8:45 pm and is filed under Original Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
Follow Comments:
RSS Feed for This Post

43 Responses to “The Rose Blows”

  1. Robin Allaire said:

    I agree that the sunflower would be a great national symbol. If not, there’s always the dandelion! As to the fruit, I agree that the Jonathan is the best tasting. However, I think it’s been tampered with to increase its travelability. We really like the currently available Pink Lady, but I suspect that it is the product of New Zealand, if so, hats off to the Kiwis!

  2. milda said:

    just a small comment

    what does this snobery do the people
    who want to know about plans and how to take care of them?

    m d

  3. ewart-touzot said:

    When I see in my mind’s eye the sunflower I see field upon field of them growing in France and so like lavender I could never consider it as an American find…same with the poppy…but perhaps gaillardia or coreopsis …Apples belong to Normandy, how about the blueberry or strawberries ?

  4. John C. said:

    I thought apples originated in Central Asia. They were popularized by Johnnie Appleseed and certainly planted everywhere, but that doesn’t make them any more American than roses. Don’t get me wrong I love apples. I think your sunflower choice is the best bet for national flower.

  5. Mary said:

    You are quite the old curmudgeon, aren’t you? I suppose I am too!

    I enjoy reading what you have to say.

  6. Steven R said:

    I would suggest the peony as they are truly the queen of flowers. They are truly classic and even though the flowring time is limited they are spectacular. Plant them once, for a lifetime of beauty/blooming or not and pest free. Notice all of the major magazines that feature peonies in their articles as the flower of choice.

  7. jalaire said:

    I love Jonathan apples!! I grew up in Marion, Ohio and my mother used to buy Jonathans by the bushel from Lawerence Orchards. When I moved to Austin,Texas in 1970 to go to UT, my mother would send me a box of Jonathans every September. I just called Lawrence Apple Orchards in Ohio and talked to George Lawrence who says that they still grow, pick and ship Jonathans for people like me and you! They start picking around September 15-20 depending on the crop. He reminded me that they are smaller and not as red as most people like these days. The orchard has been around since 1921! The website is
    This family is going to have one really good apple pie come September!!

  8. Jerry Burns said:

    I totally concur.

  9. Sarkis Chobanian said:

    Purely a stylistic point Mr. Ball but you should show respect to our former presidents regardless of party. You referred to him as “Reagan” rather than President Reagan.

  10. Caye A. said:

    Lots of gorgeous roses are being developed right here in this country – NOT the prima donnas of the past, but roses that are truly easy to care for and still lovely. Frankly, I just acouldn’t get too excited about a sunflower,no matter how majestic or all-American it is! Give me the romance of our roses any day!

  11. Roy McGinnis said:

    Okay, so I agree thatthe sunflower (one of North America’s only native “staples”) should be our national flower. It’s big–truly an American tendency, it’s bold–again–American, and “frontiersy” to coin a really bad word. Who can look at a sunflower without thinking of “go west young man?”

    I DO disagree with you, however, when you use the term “botanically barren.” What are you talking about? Western North Carolina (my home) alne has over 1200 flowering plants–not including trees! We are one of the richest plant places on the planet. (The alliteration is free). If you mean many of these are not cultivated–then that’s a different matter.

    As far as the tendency of Americans to change loyalties to different non-native fruit varieties–who knew? Marketing is powerful. Note the ubiquitous but not-so-delicious-red-delicious that has dominated the super markets for years. It’s a marginal apple but it’s everywhere. I have no idea who foisted this wanna-be on us or where it’s from. Perhaps we should begin labeling fruit as “made in America” or at least developed here.

  12. Jerry Bridges said:

    Love it. This was original, so true, patriotic, and funny as all get out.

  13. eliz.anderson said:

    I agree wholeheartedly with all you said.The only roses that I have had sucess with over many years of trying are the Buck roses .( iowa university should be ashamed of themselves for never giving him credit or support). I would give my eye teeth and some cash for some Johnathon apples.Delicious apples taste like watered down chemicals or maybe hay.The sunflower also sounds like a great idea, American, good seeds to eat,sunflower oil and easy to grow.

  14. Dave K said:

    Sunflower is a great choice; Pretty to look at & very much a part of everyone’s life; Eating, oils, bio fuels

  15. Margaret said:

    Nearly everyone I know, even gardening friends, think I’m crazy because I love the crisp smell of marigolds – it gets my vote if sunflowers don’t make it! And my old favorite apple pie recipe is only a winner if I use Jonathans.
    Your blog is one I really enjoy – I reward myself after a long day by checking in to see what’s up – thanks for the refreshment.

  16. Sue said:

    Go for it!!!!!

  17. Joan Weed said:

    I’ve always believed the columbine should be the national flower. I think it grows in every state in the Union, well probably not Hawaii……..but all the others including Alaska.

  18. Judith Clausen said:

    My vote goes to Minnesota’s Honey Crisp for the best apple.

  19. Marguerite said:

    I love the idea of the sunflower as the National flower. It always turns its face to the sun, attracts butterflies, birds and bees with its pollen, nectar and seeds. It seems endlessly optimistic and requires no coddling to be enormously successful. It is welcomed in all venues, from the quiet corner of the kitchen garden to the dramatic display arrangements of high society. It is, like Americans, found in many sizes, shapes and colors. It is the perfect choice.

  20. Dear George,
    I am bombarded in my business and in life with way too much information, but I am delighted when I receive Heronswood mail and there’s yet another post by you. Quite clever and entertaining! Please keep writing.

  21. Peggy said:

    The national flower certainly should be a native. I rather like the Mountain Laurel.

  22. SBL said:

    It’s a little too easy to criticize the decisions of others sometimes, isn’t it? I think the arguments sound a bit short on reason and long on personal sentiment. Roses are still wildly popular in the U.S. (and a vital part of the California nursery and floriculture industries, a claim that no sunflower can make) and there are many wonderful native species that have been used to enrich our gardens and breeding programs since the earliest days of our country and beyond, if you require proof of citizenship. Not only that, but the rose breeding and growing industries are still thriving here, even if their cut-flower production has moved abroad because we frugal Americans insist on bargain prices. The primary sunflower of fields and Van Gogh paintings (Helianthus annuus) actually originated in Mexico, not Colorado, and is a very important crop in Russia. The tomato, as you pointed out, is from South America and you can be certain that it wouldn’t be nearly so popular if it hadn’t captured the imaginations of the enterprising Europeans who turned it into marinara sauce and pizza toppings. If the idea that roses are native to other parts of the world and grown and bred overseas (as well as here) is your main argument against them being the national flower, then you would seem to be on very shaky ground.

    A better observation might be that no flower but the rose can cut across the vast cultural divide to appeal to people of all nationalities and creeds, and it has been a flower for all humanity, not just one country or one people exclusively. Isn’t that what America stands for, after all?

  23. ann said:

    Don’t let the history of the rose in North America get in the way of your rant.
    Should anyone wish to learn a bit more, read about Noisette roses that owe their being to John Champneys of Charleston South Carolina.
    OK, you are in Pennsylvania and wish to ignore the other side of the Mason Dixon line. Have you ever taken time to read Buist (a Philadelphia nurseryman who was a major supplier of roses in the mid 1800s. Cook and Feast near Baltimore were also appreciative of North America’s species roses and who created roses for this continent. The rambling roses from Jackson and Perkins, back when they werer in NY State, persist in the eastern USA to this day.

    Perhaps Mr. Ball needs to see roses in places other than the flower section of his grocery store to see what has stood the test of time. There are lots of roses out there,just awaiting further appreciation.

  24. Debbie Brown said:

    Jonathan apples are what I was raised on, the only ones my mom would bake into pies, and the only ones I will eat to this day. I start pestering the produce people late August until I get my yearly Jonathan fix. There was one year someone made a mistake at King Soopers and had Jonathans stored like other apples and we were abe to have a second season so to speak in Dec/Jan. Ah, that was a truly wonderful mistake that I wish they would repeat.

  25. Layanee said:

    Give it up! The rose is here to stay! Sunflowers are nice but they aren’t roses!

  26. joebar said:

    a marigold is like a glorified dandelion. if you cannot see the beauty, intrigue, and romanticism attached to the “queen of flowers” then by all means, by your wife a bouquet of them and tell her you love her and see if she believes you

  27. Susan Wallace said:

    I vote for Braeburns! They are crisp, tart and mildly sweet, and an excellent general purpose apple. But of course many other less commercialized species are out there [in the wilds of Kazakstan, among other places] waiting to be discovered.

  28. Herlene said:

    The history of the Rose is world-wide. Did you know that they were located in Montana 28,000 years ago and have been found in other archeological digs in the U.S.? Yes it has been cultivated, but so have we. I still vote it the number one flower. Cheers, Herlene

  29. Richard said:

    Sorry I can’t agree about marigolds, can’t stand them in my garden. Too orange for me. The sunflower would be a great choice.

  30. Jeff said:

    You call the Americas “botanically barren”? What continent do YOU live on?

    That said, I actually agree with you regarding the tomato and the sunflower, in spite of the fact that I am a rabid rose fan… It’s not about what to give as a gift bouquet, it’s about finding something that is native to this land.

  31. cris said:

    As a child, the Jonathan apple was my favorite. I have often wondered what happened to it as I go to the market and only find Gala and Fuji. How do we get it back? How do we vote for the sunflower (one of my favorites): a seemingly more appropriate image of American industry and beauty? Please tell me how.

  32. Marg said:

    My husband read this web log to me this morning and I wanted to let you know that I agreed and laughed out loud. Thank you so much for the time you put into your articles, they are wonderful to read and I look forward to many more

  33. jean said:

    sunflowers are a fine choice, but I have to go with Cortland as my favorite apple.

  34. Hoover said:

    There are many roses native to North America, including Rosa californica, Rosa carolina, Rosa palustrus, Rosa blanda, and Rosa nutkana. Rosa californica has been used by Tom Carruth of Weeks Roses, to produce the beautiful cultivars ‘Ebb Tide’, ‘Wild Blue Yonder’, and ‘Midnight Blue’.

    What’s so foreign about that?

  35. Suzanne said:

    Tomatoes are wonderful but I think our National Fruit should be Asimina triloba, our very own PawPaw! Truly a fruit to inspire pride. My daughter lives in Alaska. She has native roses all over her property. Absolutely beautiful in all their wild glory as well as being “as American as apple pie”.

  36. Monarda said:

    I yield to no one in my love of roses, but I have always felt the gaillardia should be our national flower, because its common name “Indian blanket” commemorates the artistry of native Americans and it grows in every state. Also it is both elegant and casual in appearence without being the least bit weedy.

  37. Gale said:

    What could be more American than a flower rich in history which flows easily into the melting pot of our society? Not much is truly an “American” original any more,is it? My ancestors were Scots-Irish, but they set their roots deep in American soil,worked hard, fought in our wars, bled and died proud to be Americans-and they grew sunflowers on their farm-not roses.

    A rose is a rose is a rose; like a beautiful movie star, it is delicate, beautiful, and lovely to look at, but rather useless and an unattainable goal for the average person.
    A sunflower however,is a blue collar worker-producing food, fuel, and standing tall,strong, and proud like us;the working American.Throw the seeds in the ground and they will fight all odds to flourish-rather a lot like my grandparents, come to think of it!

  38. The Tree Man said:

    What about our National tree……the Mighty Oak!

  39. Fran said:

    Johnathan are my favorite apple for both cooking and eating. Just the right amount of sweet & tart. Why are so few of them offered at the grocery?

  40. gooddog said:

    I agree! The sunflower comes out on top!

  41. Carol Ann Rahbar said:

    You are an incredibly gifted writer. Please compile your letters, journal entries, obserations of nature, etc. into a book for us to savor.

Follow Comments:
RSS Feed for This Post