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Plant of the Week: Apple

Picture of apple blossoms

The apple blossom was selected as the Arkansas state flower in January 1901. (Image courtesy Gerald Klingaman)


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Plant of the Week

Apple
Latin: Malus Ormiston Roy

Apples are blooming throughout the Ozarks this week so spring is now officially here, albeit a bit later than normal. Apples hold a significant place in the economic and social history of Arkansas, not the least of which is that it was adopted by the state Legislature as the state flower in January 1901. 

At the close of the 19th century, apples were touted by railroad men as the perfect cash crop throughout the Ozarks. To encourage the expansion of railroads into thinly populated regions, states gave railroad owners land to offset the cost of building the tracks. This land was then sold to farmers for immediate returns and the hope of future profits as the farmers became established and shipped out their products via those same rail lines. 

Railroad brochures touted the Ozarks as some of the finest apple country this side of the Allegheny Mountains, but at just a fraction of the price. Washington and Benton counties – from about 1890 until about 1930 when the double whammy of the coddling moth and the Dust Bowl drought ravaged the industry – had the highest concentration of apple trees as anywhere in the United States. 

According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture the apple blossom was championed by Love Barton, the head of the Searcy chapter of the Arkansas Floral Emblem Society. White County has been a hotbed of horticultural production throughout much of Arkansas history, and many of the 400 apple clones being grown in the state at the time were likely grown there.

Though other floral emblems were proposed including the passion vine and cotton, Ms. Barton’s lobbying efforts which culminated with a visit to the Statehouse just before the vote with a bushel of polished Arkansas-grown apples clinched the deal. 

Arkansas was the 12th state in the nation to select a state flower. Considering all the mischief elected officials can create, selecting a floral symbol seems like a relatively harmless undertaking.  But what fomented the foundation of an Arkansas Chapter of the Floral Emblem Society? 

Flags, seals and other associated symbols of nationalism are important in establishing a tribal identity. The bald eagle was selected as our national emblem in 1782 but at that time the fledgling national lawmakers saw no need to select a national flower, tree, mineral, insect, soil and all the other things state legislatures have since seen fit to elevate to statewide recognition. 

The state flower movement, which eventually spread to other items, began as a largely women’s movement to select a national flower. It began in the 1880s in with Victorian zeal and lots of poetry espousing the virtues of Mayflower or Trailing Arbutus, the first flower the Pilgrims saw when they landed at Plymouth Rock. 

However, selecting a national flower is a tricky thing. To many of the wholly male-elected officials of the time, a floral symbol should be easily recognized in all parts of the country, it should be native to the country and, just for good measure, should be economically important. 

The focus of the efforts to select a national floral symbol revolved around the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair where, just coincidentally, Arkansas apples won blue ribbons.  Also, the Floral Emblem Society was founded in Chicago and had a presence at the Fair. Somewhere about this time the Society got the idea that if states could select floral symbols, then this might grease the skids to get a national flower.

Oklahoma, while still a territory, became the first to select a state flower as they were simultaneously preparing their Territorial Seal and getting ready for an exhibit at the World’s Fair. The ladies of the state supported – for some reason not abundantly clear to this native Oklahoman – the white berries of the mistletoe as their official flower.  A month later Minnesota adopted the ladyslipper orchid as its state flower.     

The drive to name a national flower languished for decades but finally in 1986 Ronald Regan signed legislation naming the rose as our national flower. During the late 19th century, the rose was deemed unworthy of recognition because it is not native and those danged Brits had already chosen it.  

By: Gerald Klingaman, retired 
Extension Horticulturist - Ornamentals
Extension News - April 11, 2014

 

The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.