by Felder Rushing, Gestalt Gardener

When my children were young I had them smell things to imprint things deeply. In my lectures I often show a photo of Zoe with her face deep in a big magnolia flower, and explain that no matter who or where she ends up, for the rest of her life every time she encounters a magnolia flower its sweetness will evoke memories of her childhood home.

This sense of place is important: it’s part of who we are, individually and collectively. As I travel across the world, I’m often asked where I’m from and, because of our both good and bad cultural baggage, when I say “Mississippi,” I get looks, comments. Many are favorable; some are not.

It’s not everyone’s landscaping cup of tea, of course. It’s a huge native tree; the largest in the world is a Delta monster topping 135 feet, and they drop leathery leaves thickly atop shallow roots.

However, tidier, more compact cultivars are available for landscape use, including my favorite, the long-blooming Little Gem which is appropriate for accents and screens in small gardens.

Still, there are reasons why we have long branded ourselves the Magnolia State.

This largest flower in North America is our official floral emblem and state tree.

The durable survivor, which still grows wild in our every county, outlived whatever killed the dinosaurs.

Because it represents both the enduring strength of our diverse people and cultures, as well as our natural heritage, since 1949 the Mississippi Department of Archives and History has featured a bold rendering of its flower and leaves on historical markers found in every community.

All this is to say that, as of last month, we have a mandate to create something strong and evocative to represent Mississippi well to people both near and far.

It’s a chance to be uniquely reminiscent, much like Texans’ Lone Star and the South Carolina’s palmetto.

We have an opportunity to extend our positive market brand by putting, rather than something nearly generic, our world-celebrated state flower on a new state flag.

Our legislature has decreed that “In God We Trust” be including in the design.

That’s not my concern because it can easily underwrite a simple, bold rendering of the flower. Main thing is, little this side of roses brings more smiles than our magnolia flower, which, like the ancient trees, doesn’t care who our Mamas ‘n them were, but watches over us equally, regally, nonplussed about our shortcomings. I hope it ends up, in one form or another, on the Magnolia State’s flag.

Regardless, magnolias will always kindle sweet forever memories.

Get a child to smell its flower, then draw one for the ‘fridge door. Looks good there, too.