What Is the State Flower of Louisiana? History & Cultural References
You may be surprised to learn that the state flower, the magnolia tree, isn’t indigenous to Louisiana. Its dense branches sprawl all across the South and even in other countries. You may wonder why a state would choose a flower as its symbol that wasn’t exactly unique to the region—or even a flower. It’s actually a flowering tree!
Simply put, the Louisiana Legislature decided on the magnolia of no given species for the state flower in 1900 because several types flourish in the state. However, opponents promoted the Iris in its stead for nearly 100 years. Here’s how the conflict was resolved, resulting in Louisiana’s southern lady remaining the state symbol for over 120 years.
At a Glance
|Type:||Evergreen or deciduous hardwood tree|
|Color:||Green leaves with creamy white blossoms|
|Blooms:||Late winter through midsummer|
|Size:||Up to 70 ft. tall and 50 ft. wide|
Magnolia trees tend to spread out and can be nearly as wide as they are tall. They’re a popular choice around houses and city parks and are prominent pieces of the landscape on historical plantation grounds. Graceful and resilient, the magnolia tree has a sturdy trunk that can silently brave many of the hurricanes and tropical storms that plague the state.
While other structures around it may come and go through the decades, the magnolia often lives for a century or more. This tree typically grows smaller shoots called suckers around its trunk that look like part of the tree but are actually mini-magnolia trees that can survive independently once the mother tree has passed, or if they are uprooted and planted elsewhere once their root systems are established.
The Louisiana Legislature voted the magnolia tree as the state flower in 1900. The only documented reason is that it’s a plant that grows abundantly in the Bayou State. Opponents argued for the Iris instead because the magnolia isn’t very unique to the region. Indeed, Mississippi eventually adopted the magnolia as their state flower in 1952.
However, people loved the magnolia and thought it had a better connotation with the outside world than the swamp-dwelling Iris. Louisianans grumbled that their neighbors already associated the state with nothing but cypress trees, wetlands, and alligators, so they argued that the Iris wouldn’t help their case. Eventually, the debate ended with the magnolia remaining the state flower and the Iris voted as the state wildflower in 1990.
Set in Louisiana, Steel Magnolias is a play and a movie that references the state flower. It was filmed on location in Natchitoches, LA in 1989. Although it’s considered a fiction drama, it was based on a true story and highlights the resilient, loving community kept by Louisianan women. Like the magnolia blossom, the women in this state are considered delicate blossoms, but they’re stronger than they look. The movie was a well-known success that helped Julia Roberts rise to fame. Perhaps it gave the magnolia tree added significance and recognition since the tree persevered as the state flower, much like the women in the story.
Whether you’re in the city or the country, you’re likely to spot the magnolia tree while you’re in Louisiana. If you find a young sapling, it will probably be there for a hundred years or more. Although the magnolia isn’t a native Louisianan plant, it resonates culturally with the residents because it develops strong roots that can survive decades of hurricanes and other natural disasters, while never failing to offer beautiful white blossoms every spring.
Featured Image Credit: djacoby, Pixabay