History of Lilac as NH State Flower

At the Jan. 3 garden club meeting, our speaker, Barbara Rollins from the NH-DOT, spoke about lilacs and wildflowers. Someone raised a hand and asked why the lilac, which is not native to New Hampshire, was chosen for our state flower. Given the lilac’s attractive, fragrant blooms, it’s no surprise that someone would suggest it for state flower, but as the account below shows, it was far from a shoo-in.

An excerpt from Leon Anderson’s History: Colorful Sessions On Flowers from the Manual for the General Court, Page 2, 1981 (taken from Governor’s Lilac and Wildflower Commission web site)

“The purple lilac became New Hampshire’s official State flower, in a most colorful manner, in the 1919 legislative session. It was opposed by nine other flowers, including the apple blossom, the purple aster, the wood lily, water lily, and goldenrod. The committee’s recommendation was approved by the House on February 20th and sent up to the Senate for concurrence.

The Senate developed considerable purple lilac sentiment and also considered the buttercup. Unable to muster majority support for any flower, the 24 members of the Senate turned to a novel solution. They placed the names of three flowers in a hat, blindfolded Senate Clerk Earle C. Gordon of Canaan, and ordered him to draw a name. The purple lilac, the mayflower and the purple aster went into the lottery, and the latter won the draw.

The Senate reported its unique decision to the House, which clung to the apple blossom, and the impasse was referred to a committee of conference.

The 10-man conference committee soon became stalemated on the flower fuss, and turned to another unique solution. It asked two botanists, Professor Arthur Houston Chivers of Dartmouth and Professor Ormond Butler of the state college to arbitrate the dilemma, and agreed to accept their decision.

Within a few days the two botanists informed the conference committee that they had also become stalemated. Faced with this deadlock added to its own deadlock, the conference committee voted eight-to-two for the purple lilac. Two members stuck to the apple blossom to the bitter end.

The House and Senate concurred with the committee compromise, without further argument, and Governor John H. Bartlett of Portsmouth signed the purple lilac into law on March 28, 1919.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *