How the Sunflower became the Kansas State Flower

(Frank) Sunflowers, she’s my sunflower. Do you know that song? (Deb) No. [laughs] (Frank) She’s not old enough. Bing Crosby back in the late ‘40s, early ‘50s had a big hit song called Sunflower. Sunflower from the sunflower state and I mean it was a big, big hit. Now, here is something else. You do know the song “Hello Darling”. (Deb) Sure. (Frank) Well, there was a great big court battle over that because the writer of Sunflower said they were the same song. (Deb) Well, the way you sing it, it sounded like it. [Laughter] (Frank) But the first few notes are the same. But the thing as I remember it, the Hello Darling people won and they said it was totally by chance. (Deb) Well, I didn’t know. (Frank) Bing Crosby, Sunflower. Look it up online. You can find it. (Deb) Well, that’s very appropriate for the Sunflower State. Sunflowers, we, of course, call it the sunflower state because of all those folks and wagons rolling by. You got these wonderful wild sunflowers that we still have all over the place. Then of course that morphed into eventually a sunflower crop. I never can not think of this but my granny always planted a row of sunflowers beside the garden but we didn’t eat sunflower seeds because she thought that was greedy and she planted those for the birds. Those were intended for the birds and not for us. And we were like, “But man, they’re good, granny” “I’ll go to the store, buy you a little pack of sunflower seeds.” (Frank) Birds over on the fence going– [laughter] (Deb) Exactly. Let’s take a look at our most famous flower and how we took the name the Sunflower State.It’s no accident that we are the Sunflower State. Long before statehood, the sunflower began to develop a connection with Kansas. Traders on the Santa Fe Trail commented on the flower’s presence. Stephen Long’s expedition through Kansas in 1820 documented birds feeding on the flower’s seeds. Early settlers burned the stalks for fuel and fed the seeds to their poultry. Soon after statehood, Kansans began to suggest the state officially adopt the flower. The capitol square is surrounded by a dense growth of rampant sunflowers, wrote Noble Prentis, editor of the Atchison Champion, in 1880. They grow as big, rank and yellow as if they were forty miles from a house. The sunflower ought to be made the emblem of our state. Kansas delegates to the Grand Army of the Republic convention in St. Louis in 1887 displayed the sunflower as their emblem. The Newton Daily Republican suggested in response to the favorable reception that Kansas should be called the Sunflower State. However, the sunflower was not highly regarded by all. An 1895 state law called the sunflower a noxious weed that should be destroyed. Other Kansans appreciated the flower’s hardiness and endurance. Kansans who attended rodeos in Colorado Springs in 1901 displayed the sunflower as a badge. It presented a pleasing scene, unique and attractive to every citizen of the Sunflower state, George P. Morehouse, state senator from Council Grove, recalled. That occasion suggested the sunflower as our state flower. Morehouse drafted the bill designating the wild native sunflower or Helianthus as the state flower. Governor Willis Bailey signed the legislation in 1903. Nebraska had considered adopting the flower as its own before the Kansas law passed. No other state claimed the flower as its symbol. When Alfred Landon launched his presidential campaign in 1936, the symbol was prominent on his buttons and campaign materials. The sunflower has become an important Kansas crop, used for sunflower oil and biodiesel fuel. The nickname, Sunflower State, has become common and the sunflower remains a unique, cherished Kansas symbol.

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