Human Flower Project
Outing the Preakness ‘Black Eyed Susans’
Pimlico pulls a fast one with Maryland’s state flower.
Robby Albarado aboard Preakness winner Curlin
raises an ersatz Rudbeckia, 5/19/07
Photo: Al Behrman, for AP
A dear old friend of ours—a Virginian—once advised, “People from Maryland can’t be trusted.” My! At the time we thought that swipe was horribly unfair, but conduct after yesterday’s Preakness Stakes has given us pause.
People with nothing better to do saw a thrilling horserace Saturday; Curlin, ridden by Robby Albarado, beat Derby winner Street Sense by a head in a photo finish. Then as they do at Pimlico, the chestnut colt was led to the Winner’s Circle to wear his victory: the ceremonial blanket of black eyed susans.
1st class postage stamp from another era
with Maryland state bird and flower
Image: Perry’s perennial pages
Rudbeckia hirta is Maryland’s state flower, and has been since 1918. “Many farmers at the time considered the Black-eyed Susan and the Goldenrod,” Kentucky’s state flower, “to be weeds. Some even claimed that the Black Eyed Susan was not native to Maryland. This argument continued until 1960 when the Baltimore Sun published an article stating ‘Susan came to Maryland, not on the Ark or the Dove, but as a migrant from the Midwest mixed in clover and hayseed.’”
Choosing a non-native as one’s state flower is not all that uncommon (Indiana, in a real stretch, selected the peony), and it’s certainly no cause for mistrust. But the Preakness prize is another matter. “Colonel Edward R. Bradley’s Bimelech in 1940 was the first winner to wear the floral blanket of Black-Eyed Susans.” But Curlin draped in flowers deserved a double take. Those weren’t black eyed susans at all!! After a little snooping we’ve learned that Pimlico has substituted what it calls “Viking daisies,” 80 bunches of them, for Rudbeckia in the victory garland. More precisely, these appear to be a pompom chrysanthemum, Chrysanthemum x morifolium.
Black Eyed Susans in July
St. Clement’s Island, Maryland
Photo: St. Mary’s County
Why would the Preakness forego the state’s true and only designated “weed” for a novelty cut flower? The track justifies the switch because, it claims, Black eyed susans “do not bloom until June in Maryland.” Oh really. How long have we been able to get tulips in February and orchids at Christmas? Twisting Jimmy Buffet a bit, isn’t it June somewhere?
Here you’ll find details of how the Preakness’s 90-inch garland is constructed. Read if you dare: “Upon completion, the center of the daisies are daubed with black lacquer to recreate the appearance of a Black-Eyed Susan.”
Now, botany is not our strong suit, but even we could tell these black eyed susans were fakes. The tip off? Black eyed susans have a “domed center of disc florets,” a dark brown button. And it sticks up. Chrysanthemums are “innies” and black eyed susans are “outies.”
To be fair, the Marylanders told on themselves and, more to the point, their attempt at floral counterfeiting was too lame to qualify as deceptive. Setting aside their trustworthiness for the moment, we know that the folks of Maryland are certainly well connected. How about if you guys call up some of your very important associates and get a few horticulturists (or if not that, importers) to work on supplying bona fides for the Preakness next year?