How the Rhododendron Became Washington’s State Flower
Growing up in Washington State, children are taught in school about our state history.
When Washington became a state: 1889.
What our Washington state bird is: American Goldfinch.
Our state flower?: The Coast Rhododendron
It's interesting that “coast’ is in the name. I grew up on the coast and I saw a huge amount of Rhodies all around Puget Sound.
So how is it, that the Rhododendron was Chosen as Washington State’s Flower?
The answer goes back to the year 1892.
Women across the state voted on two options that would represent the newly formed State of Washington at the upcoming 1993 World’s Fair in Chicago. The Rhododendron beat out Clover and became our state flower.
'Rhododendrons, often referred to as “rhodies” are a common sight in gardens around the Pacific Northwest. As a whole, the genus Rhododendron contains over 1,000 varieties grown all over the world.' -Coastal Interpretive Center
The exact kind of Rhodie was chosen by the State Legislature in 1959: Rhododendron macrophyllum, or more commonly known as the Coast Rhododendron, the Pacific Rhododendron, the California Rosebay, The California Rhododendron or the “bigleaf rhododendron.”
There are two origin stories of the original Rhododendron habit.
* One well circulated account names Joseph Hooker, a British botanist who spent two years in the late 1840s in Sikkim, located in Northeastern India. The city of Darjeeling (made famous by film director Wes Anderson) is in this region. Hooker sent rhododendron plants and seeds back to the Royal Botanical Garden at Kew in South West London.
In coming decades, British homes had to have these extremely popular, exotic rhododendrons on their property.
* Another origin story for the Rhodie says Captain George Vancouver first saw the colorful Rhododendrons in the 1790s in what today is known as Discovery Bay, near Port Townsend. William Lobb sent Rhodie seeds to England in 1850. Which also could be why the Rhodie craze skyrocketed for the coming decades.
I regularly saw Rhodie’s in my childhood hometown of Bremerton. The most popular colors for Rhododendrons are purples and pinks, as well as white and cream. The Rhododendron loves shade and favors wet climates.
If you’re interested in growing Rhodies on your property check out this how-to growing guide from Better Homes and Garden.
INFO: Better Homes and Garden, Washington State Legistature, "Plant Collecting on the Northwest Coast" by Justice, Clive L. Mr. Menzies' Garden Legacy