Flower Power and the State Flower of Louisiana

Magnolia on Gold Cloth; Oil on canvas, Martin Heade

The annual Philadelphia Flower Show is here! And, Flower Power prompted us to share a little about Louisiana horticulture. The State Flower of Louisiana is the Magnolia and the State Wild Flower is the Louisiana Iris. Louisiana is a magical place all of the time, but especially in the spring and summer when the air is filled with the intoxicatingly sweet smell of Magnolias. The landscape is lyrical — unless you are in the bayou and there the tempo changes a bit as vampires and alligators abound.

Magnolias symbolize dignity and nobility. In ancient China, magnolias were thought to be the perfect symbols of beauty and gentleness. And, then there is Sugar Magnolia, the Grateful Dead’s ode to a woman who “…could make happy any man alive” and Dolly Parton’s song, Beneath the Sweet Magnolia Tree — both songs celebrate a passionate roll in the grass under the Magnolia tree. Clearly, those composers had their own mythology about the Magnolia tree in mind when they wrote their lyrics.

The Irises mythology dates back to Ancient Greece, when the Goddess Iris, who personified the rainbow, acted as the link between heaven and earth. Legend has it that purple Irises were planted over the graves of women to summon the goddess Iris to guide them in their journey to heaven. Iris became linked to the French monarchy during the Middle Ages, eventually being recognized as their national symbol, the fleur-de-lis.

Thousands of Magnolia trees bloom throughout Louisiana during the summer. The Magnolia can grow up to 80 – 90 feet tall and span 30 – 50 feet wide. Its rich, sweet fragrance is seductive. The Magnolia was named as the State Flower of Louisiana in 1900. It is named after the French botanist, Pierre Magnol (1638-1715). The Louisiana Iris was named the State Wild Flower in 1990; the first attempt to make the wild Iris the state flower occurred under great debate in 1950.

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