The native flowers of Russia have had a tough time of it.
|For five hundred years of modern European history – if not to count the Greek and Roman empires – native plants of western Russia, the Caucasus, and Siberia, have been taken into the pharmacopoeias, botanical collections, palace gardens, and flower markets of the west Europeans. Even the tulip, on whose commercial value the Dutch speculated so successfully in the 16th century, was mistakenly attributed as coming from Ottoman Turkey; in fact, the first plants to reach the west came from Feodosia, on the Crimean peninsula.|
|The Papaver orientalis (Oriental poppy), Bergenia crassifolia (Siberia tea), Gypsophila paniculata (Baby’s breath), Lychnis chalcedonica (Maltese cross), Scilla siberica (squill), and Delphinium grandiflorum (larkspur) are all Russian natives – though you might never know so.|
|This east-to-west floral tribute was so effective that by the time of the Communist revolution, Russian flora had become heraldic symbols on the crowns and shields of all sorts of foreign thrones, states, and flags outside Russia. But according to Russian heraldic historians, not a single flower has ever been adopted on a state escutcheon in this country.
The two ruling dynasties of Russia – the Ruriks and the Romanovs – adopted the falcon and the gryphon as their symbols. They are carnivores, not pollinators or plant-eaters.
|The Bolsheviks celebrated the colour red, and of course, the hammer and sickle. A brief attempt was made in 1917 to introduce a special Day of the Carnation to raise money for the army. The flower stuck as a decoration for national holidays, but not as a national symbol.|
|The Russian Communist Party today says it has never adopted the carnation, or any other flower, as an official symbol.
The carnation was also distilled for the perfume most Soviet women used to wear, Krasnaya Moskva.
|After the formation of the Soviet Union, the official insignia of the USSR included wheat. The Soviet republics of Azerbaijan, Kirghizstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan used cotton; the Armenian, Georgian, Moldovan and Turkmenistan republics, grapes; the Byelorussian republic, clover and flax; and the Moldovan republic, corn.|
|In 2002, apparently out of the blue, the Chairman of the Federation Council, Sergei Mironov, introduced the idea of selecting a national flower of Russia. He claimed he would appoint an expert commission; invite children all over Russia to contribute drawings of flowers they proposed; and conclude with an official selection. But Mironov started with his own pick; and he apparently rigged the commission to assure that his flower was chosen at the end.
According to Mironov, “for foreigners who have never been to Russia, our country associates with the clumsy and malevolent bear. Others look at us exclusively through the prism of Russian vodka… But what if we imagine that our Motherland is similar to a flower? What flower will it be?”
|Mironov’s choice was Matricaria recutita – known in Europe as the German Chamomile. The odd thing about this choice is that members of Mironov’s staff admit they don’t know what he had chosen, or why he had been pursuing a flower in the first place. What started out in 2002 as a national flower symbol, became a year later a symbol for the Federation Council, and when that failed to be adopted by the other senators, the symbol of Mironov’s small political party, the Spravedlivaya Rossiya (Fair Russia).|
|Mironov himself won’t answer questions about the chamomile.
But in 2006, he made this public appeal on behalf of the flower: “Our party chose this flower as a symbol, but all of us sincerely consider that the best flowers are children. One of our slogans at the May 1 demonstration was: ‘Children are flowers of life. Make a flowerbed!’ I can’t help but repeat this appeal as a wish to all readers of your magazine. Plant flowers, give birth to children, make our world better!”
|Readers, who don’t presently have the opportunity to plant, give birth, or make the world any better, are invited to nominate a flower to be the national symbol of Russia. Contact the Editor.|
|Readers have asked for identification of the plant at the bear’s nose, behind Lenin, in the logo of this website. It is the asphodel of Crete. In the botany of the ancient Minoans and Greeks, reported in their myths and in Homer, the asphodel provided a remedy for the bite of poisonous snakes and for evil spells cast by men. Fields of asphodels bloomed every
spring above the graves of the dead, both ordinary folk and heroes. The plant is not known to have any source in Russia, though in 2001 it was spotted in Tajikistan.