Inspired by the creation of a National Garland of Flowers for the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago (World's Columbian Exposition), the "flower or bloom" of the magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) gained support as state flowers of Louisiana and Mississippi around 1900. Louisiana adopted the magnolia as their official flower in 1900.
(Mississippi, whose school children voted for the magnolia in 1900, took no official action for 50 years. Mississippi adopted the magnolia as the state's official flower in 1952.)
In 1941, the Mary Swords DeBaillon Louisiana Native Iris Society was formed by a group of Louisiana iris enthusiasts in order to protect the habitat of native Louisiana irises from commercial development. In 1948, the group changed its name to the Society for Louisiana Irises. The Society, its membership having grown to about 185 members, proposed legislation in 1950 to replace the magnolia blossom with the Louisiana iris. In an effort to appease the magnolia supporters, legislation was also proposed to make the magnolia the official state tree.
The debate between the iris lovers and the magnolia supporters sometimes grew heated. The iris was referred to as a plant that grows in swamps and one magnolia supporter offered,
"Lots of people already think that everyone in Louisiana lives in houses on stilts in swamplands and keeps an alligator as a watchdog."
In an entry in her scrapbook, Marie Caillet and Charter Member of the Mary Swords DeBaillon Louisiana Native Iris Society, wrote
An attempt was made to have the Louisiana iris voted the State Flower of Louisiana, but it was blocked by supporters of the magnolia and of an elderly woman who made her living by painting and selling magnolia pictures! Our proposal was that the magnolia would become the State Tree.
As Marie Caillet reported, supporters of the iris, thinking that they were taking a more logical presentation for their nominee, contended that the native Louisiana iris can be grown everywhere and that the magnolia, grown throughout the south, is not unique to Louisiana. There was an expectation that re-designating the magnolia as the state tree would placate magnolia supporters.
President of the Society for Louisiana Irises, Claude W. Davis, wrote after the Louisiana Iris' defeat,
"I was proud of the fact that our crowd made a dignified, logical presentation of the facts, based on an appeal to reason, and devoid of criticism of the magnolia or sarcasm directed at those who supported it. The reverse was true of our opponents. Their appeal was purely emotional; many of their statements were not factually correct, and they directed ridicule at our native iris and all those who would champion its official recognition as the state flower."
The Society for Louisiana Irises misjudged the appeal of the magnolia and the magnolia retained its position as state flower of Louisiana as it does to this day. But the Louisiana Iris would be back. As a popular native of Louisiana, its beauty and stature made a comeback almost inevitable.
Forty years after its initial attempt at Louisiana officialdom, the Louisiana iris had its day when it was designated the official state wildflower of Louisiana by legislative Act No. 511 in 1990.
Louisiana iris are comprised of five native species; Iris hexagona, Iris brevicaulis, Iris fulva, Iris nelsoni, and Iris giganticearulea. Current hybrid Louisiana iris have resulted from hybridizing the five native species.
Very often, legislation naming "official" symbols with biological roots is not very specific, neglecting reference to scientific names of any sort. In 1990, the Louisiana iris was made the official state wildflower. The statute seems to indicate that only this one species, I. giganticearulea, can be considered the "official" wildflower.
The following information is excerpted from the Louisiana Revised Statute, Title 49, Part 8, Section RS 49:154.1.
Title 49 - State administration.
PART VIII. STATE SYMBOLS AND DISPLAY OF FLAGS.
SECTION RS 49:154.1.
§ 154.1. State wildflower
There shall be an official state wildflower. The official state wildflower shall be the Louisiana iris (Giganticaerulea). Its use on official documents of the state and with the insignia of the state is hereby authorized.
Acts 1990, No. 511, §1.
Louisiana Revised Statutes, (http://www.legis.state.la.us/), July 22, 2005
The Society for Louisiana Irises, (http://www.louisianas.org/), September 27, 2005
Shankle, George Earlie. State Names, Flags, Seals, Songs, Birds, Flowers, and Other Symbols. Irvine, Calif.: Reprint Services Corp, Revised edition, 1971.
Shearer, Benjamin F. and Barbara S. State Names, Seals, Flags and Symbols: A Historical Guide Third Edition, Revised and Expanded. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 3 Sub edition, 2001.
Iris giganticaerulea Small (giant blue iris): USDA, NRCS. 2004. The PLANTS Database, Version 3.5 (http://plants.usda.gov). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.
Iris giganticaerulea Small (Giant blue iris): from Rodney Barton, The University of North Texas Health Science Center.
Society for Louisiana Irises: Web site of the Society for Louisiana Irises.
History and Development of The Louisiana Irises: Article by Tom W. Dillard, Little Rock, Arkansas from the pages of the Society of Louisiana Irises.
The Species of Louisiana Iris: Zydeco Iris Gardens, Metairie, Louisiana.
Louisiana Iris Pamphlet: LSU Agricultural Center: Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service. Information on culture, watering, fertilization and several other topics.
Louisiana Iris: Article about blooming irises in New Orleans, by Rich Sacher.
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center: Website for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas.
State wildflowers: Complete list of official state wildflowers from NETSTATE.COM
More symbols & emblems: Complete list of official Louisiana state symbols from NETSTATE.COM.
The Louisiana Iris: The Taming of a Native American Wildflower, 2nd Edition, from the Society for Louisiana Irises. 214 pages. Publisher: Timber Press, Incorporated; 2nd edition (September 1, 2000) This is a revised edition of the first complete reference published on Louisiana irises, the five species of Iris in section Hexagonae. These beardless irises are endemic to the United States, with their center of distribution in Louisiana. They first drew attention because of the enormous number of their natural hybrids; this propensity for hybridization led to the development of today's spectacular range of colors and forms.
These irises have proved adaptable to a wide range of soils and climates, needing only sun, ample water, and a more-or-less neutral soil to thrive. They can be grown in beds with annuals and other perennials, and many are happiest in boggy settings that recall their native swamps and marshes. They are now grown in temperate areas worldwide, and with their diversity of size, form, and color are suitable for almost any garden setting.
This authoritative treatment by The Society for Louisiana Irises is based on the first edition published by the Society in 1988, but it is considerably expanded. It covers every aspect of the history, botany, and development of these distinctive irises, with particular emphasis on the newest hybrids, hybridizing techniques, and cultural practices, and also includes suggestions for their use in the landscape and in floral arrangements. It should serve to introduce a wider gardening public to these most colorful and versatile flowers.
State Birds & Flowers 1000-pc Puzzle: Created at the request of The National Wildlife Federation this design is a beautiful and informative puzzle featuring every state bird perched on the appropriate state flower.
State Birds and Flowers Coloring Book by Annika Bernhard - 51 accurately detailed, copyright-free renderings include national bird (eagle) and flower (rose) plus 50 state birds and flowers.
U. S. State Flowers in Cross Stitch by Gerda Bengtsson - Botanically correct cross stitch designs of state flowers of the 50 States.
Quilting Flowers of the States by Sue Harvey - A lovely 12-inch flower block for each of the 50 states. Techniques used are piecing, appliqué, paper-piecing and three-dimensional techniques.
Plants, Seeds & Flowers: Bulbs, seeds, plants, fertilizer, plant containers and more.