Magnolia, Mississippi, and American politics: a guest post

This is a short guest post by Dr Peter Bernhardt who recently retired as a professor at St Louis University and continues to be active in pollination biology.

Each of the 50 American states has its own flag. On Election Day in November 2020 the citizens of the state of Mississippi will vote on whether they want a new flag featuring the flower of their state tree, the southern magnolia or bull bay (Magnolia grandiflora). Of the eight Magnolia species native to the continental United States six have natural distributions including the state of Mississippi.

By voting in the magnolia flag Mississippians drop its 126-year old predecessor, which incorporated an emblem (the stainless banner) adopted by southern states during the American Civil War (1861-1865). This will also mean that Mississippi will be the only state with a flag depicting a flower in which tepals, stamens and carpels are all arranged in a continuous spiral and is pollinated by beetles (see Leonard Thien’s study published in 1974). 

The popularity of M. grandifora far exceeds silviculture in the American south as successful exports stretch over two centuries and its cultigens are found as far as China and Australia.

Politics in America have turned floral in the last months of 2020: kamala, as in vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris, is an Indian word for sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera). 

To which Jeff adds: the flag above is the one that Mississippi citizens will be voting on – follow the link at the start to get the full story of the competition that was run to select a new flag.

7 thoughts on “Magnolia, Mississippi, and American politics: a guest post

  1. ScientistSeesSquirrel

    It’s a gorgeous flag (granted, pretty much anything would have been an improvement).

    Many folks won’t know that Magnolia is named for Pierre Magnol, a 17th century French botanist whose career was impeded by religious discrimination (he was a Hugenot, a Protestant in Catholic France). The naming, for me, emphasizes the importance of diversity and inclusion in science: we need everyone. That lines up well with the need to replace the old flag, doesn’t it?

    More about the naming of Magnolia, and a whole lot more, in my book “Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider”:

  2. Ron Miksha

    Mississippi’s potential new flag is lovely. The state of Morgan Freeman, William Faulkner, and Elvis Presley will no longer wave a standard reminiscent of the old Confederacy. Now, if they would just consider obeying the US Constitution’s First Amendment (separating Church and State) on that new flag . . .

  3. Pingback: This new flag is even better than you think | Scientist Sees Squirrel

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