What Is the State Flower of New Mexico? How Was It Decided?
New Mexico is not known for its lush greenery. The state is made up of large expanses of arid and desert land that are not necessarily hospitable to the most well-known species of flowers. That is why the state flower of New Mexico is the bloom of the desert yucca plant. Like the Land of Enchantment itself, the desert yucca is a rugged arid-loving plant that is prevalent throughout the southwestern United States.
Unlike other state symbols, the official state flower of New Mexico does not have a specific species or genus. Any flower of any yucca plant native to New Mexico counts as the state flower.
All of the Yuccas
The state legislation that lays out the adoption of the desert yucca bloom as the official flower of New Mexico makes no mention of a specific species of yucca. That little detail has some interesting implications. There are dozens of different species of yucca that range from small spindly plants to large evergreen shrubs. They can be found across the southern parts of the United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean.
Two of the most common species of yucca native to New Mexico are soaptree yucca (yucca elata) and soapweed yucca (yucca glauca). These two species make up the bulk of the flowers that the first settlers to New Mexico saw and that the people of New Mexico still see on a regular basis. These yucca variations got their names from their use in soaps and scented shampoos a century ago. These yucca plants produce large stalks of yellow and white blooms that appear as small bulbous growths in the spring.
Yucca plants have numerous uses, including for food, as a balm, as a hardy decorative plant, and as an ingredient in soaps, washes, and shampoos. Dried yucca also has an extremely low ignition temperature making it an ideal source of kindling in the desert where other sources of fire starters are scarce.
While the soapweed yucca and the soaptree yucca are two of the most prominent species of yuccas native to New Mexico, any flowering yucca growing in New Mexico meets the requirements for the state flower.
How Was It Selected?
In the early 1920s, a survey was given out to the school children of New Mexico. The children were asked to select their favorite flower and the flower that they thought best represented their home state. The survey was conducted unofficially without any legislative agenda attached to it. After the survey results came back, it was clear that the state’s favorite flower was the commonly seen bloom of the native yucca plants.
In 1926, the recommendation put forward by the schoolchildren was picked up by the New Mexico Federation of Women’s Clubs. This organization brought the recommendation before the state legislature and lobbied for the choice to be made the state’s official state flower. After brief consideration, the state legislature took up the measure in their spring session. The bill enshrining the yucca flower as New Mexico’s official state flower was passed on March 14th, 1927. The state flower has remained the same ever since, and the bill is over 95 years old.
The official state flower is the bloom of any native yucca plant. That means that the state flower does not have an officially designated species. Any flowering yucca represents the spirit of New Mexico according to the law. The flower was chosen by the darling children of the state, and the legislature took up the issue nearly 100 years ago. The yucca plant is useful, rugged, hardy, arid-loving, and recognizable, just like the state of New Mexico itself.
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