SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
Ah, spring! That time of year when we give up complaining about one set of annoyances, in favor of complaining about another set of annoyances. It’s kind of like the aftermath of a Congressional election.
Here in northern Indiana, spring starts sometime between mid-March and late May. Signs of spring include hungry insects; excited weathermen; and columns of smoke, from people whose first action on shedding their winter coats is to go outside and burn something. Sometimes it’s even what they intended to burn.
But it’s not winter, and that’s something. Have you already forgotten the spinning tires, the blue fingers, the loss of feeling in exposed skin? Winter kills, man. Has anyone ever died from spring weather, or bee stings?
Okay, bad examples.
One of my favorite signs of spring is flowers. It used to be bikinis, but I don’t have the body for them anymore. When I was younger I didn’t think much about them (flowers—I thought about bikinis a lot). Now I quite literally like to stop and smell the flowers, a harmless occupation if you’re not the guy walking behind me. When I was researching my upcoming book, Hoosier Hysterical: How the West Became the Midwest Without Moving At All …
Whew. Let me catch my breath—long subtitle. Whose idea was that? Oh, mine? Well, it’s not too long.
Anyway, I discovered while researching Indiana history that our state has suffered long bouts of infighting over, believe it or not, flowers. Specifically the state flower. Like most states, our leaders spent long hours deciding what should represent us. Indiana has a state beverage, stone, poem, rifle—even airplane. (You have to read the book to find out what they are. Or you could go to an encyclopedia, but I’d prefer you read the book.)
When it comes to the flower, in 1913 the Indiana General Assembly declared it to be the carnation, which is a nice flower—and also a good way to identify your blind date across a crowded room. Unfortunately, as someone pointed out after we made it the state flower, the carnation isn’t native to Indiana.
So a decade later the General Assembly picked the tulip tree blossom, instead. It only took ten years. Then, in 1931, they traded that in for a zinnia. Zinnia? It’s a flower, apparently, and related to the sunflower tribe within the daisy family, and isn’t Google grand? That’s right, sunflowers are related to daisies, and zinnia is their illegitimate child who someone named while still on labor pain medications.
Rumors swirled like blossoms that the debate was dominated by an influential farmer. His crop happened to be … you guessed it … no, not corn! Zinnias. But at least that settled it.
Well, that settled it until 1957. The dogwood had gained popularity, and it looked like that might be our new state flower, until one of the representatives stuck his flowery hand into the debate. That rep was also a farmer, only his product was … the peony. At least this time they first confirmed the peony was native to Indiana.
Oh, wait … no they didn’t.
Still, perhaps sensing that this was silly even by political body standards, the General Assembly stuck to their guns—or rather, their pistils. Little Magnoliophyta joke, there. The dogwood lost its bark, while as a consolation prize, the tulip became the state tree. The carnation? Never heard from again.
And what of the Crocus? The Dwarf Iris? The Striped Squill? Trick question: Those are all B-list Batman villains.
This all may seem a bit silly, but hey—we even have our own state soil. Yeah, the Miami, described as a brown silt loam. At least, that’s the dirt I dug up.
If I spend entire sections of Hoosier Hysterical discussing such silly subjects, it should be remembered that I wasn’t going for the profound … unless you mean profoundly silly. Silly it might be, but there really were raging debates over the state flower. It’s not like our nickname, The Hoosier State, which was pretty much agreed on right from the beginning.
Although come to think of it, I spend an entire section on the word Hoosier, too.
As for the flower, I’m personally a fan of the lilac. We have two lilac bushes in our back yard … well, trees now, but don’t judge me on my lack of landscaping care. Also don’t judge me on the fact that, in the short lilac bloom period, I like to spread the blossoms through the house to drive out that we-really-need-to-spring-clean winter smell.
Then they’re gone all too soon, sometimes before the colder days of spring are through. I suppose that’s a good enough reason why the lilac isn’t Indiana’s state flower … not to mention it’s not native to Indiana.
Of course … neither are most Hoosiers.