The Official Flower of Oakland is the chrysanthemum...or is it? There have been a number of "official" flowers over the years.

The California poppy is the official flower of California, thanks in large part to the efforts of botanist Sara Plummer Lemmon.


Popular Mechanics 1917 1

In 1917, famed botanist and horticulturist Luther Burbank created a new dahlia hybrid, and offered to the chamber of commerce to name it for Oakland, which they accepted. 1,2 A ceremony was held and Burbank planted some of the flowers in the plaza by city hall. 3 However, Luther Burbank's Plant Contributions by W. L. Howard published in 1961 describes it as a publicity stunt and said Oakland had no official flower. The Oakland dahlia sounds beautiful, though, with a "gigantic, eight-inch pure white" flower. 5 Lovely, yes; official, not so much.


The description of a talk on KFWM radio in 1929 mentions discussion of the lupine as a candidate for the official flower. 4 There's some logic to this; lupines grow wild in the hills of Oakland. But nothing seems to have come of it.


1961 ballot

Apparently having forgotten about the dahlia, in the late 1950s the city council asked the parks department what the official flower of Oakland should be. These discussions went on for two years before they decided to hold a contest to determine the official flower. After several weeks of submissions, park superintendent William Penn Mott, Jr. declared a winner: the chrysanthemum. 6,7 Hooray — the people have spoken! Let the festival begin!

But hold on.

Mott then said that the dahlia had the most votes. The rose (a candidate then for national flower, but not official until 1985) and the chrysanthemum were tied for second. He didn't remember the exact vote count, but there were good reasons to overturn the popular vote, including the fact that "one of the finest chrysanthemum shows in the nation is held here." When asked if dahlia lovers might have stuffed the ballot box, Mott replied that he would not think of such a thing. Council member Howard Rilea said a new variety of rose was being developed at the rose garden and it might be named the City of Oakland, so what about that? 7

When the topic came up again, council member Glenn Hoover (a former rhetoric professor at Mills College) said:

"I see no justification for getting into this mess at all. We have been getting along very well without without an official flower up to the year 1961. It appears to me that this council has more weighty problems and that we are making ourselves ridiculous."

The council quickly voted to table all further consideration. 8

Official Flowers of Nearby Cities

Nearby cities have official flowers, though it's not known how "official" they are, and whether the cities still recognize them as such.

The dahlia seems to be a popular choice. Although the 1926 article about it being San Francisco's official flower says it was first cultivated in the Bay Area, it is native to Mexico, where it has been the official flower since 1963.

City Flower Year Notes
San Francisco dahlia 1926 Dahlia Adopted as S. F. Official Flower
  chrysanthemum 1936 Camera Record of Native Sons' Gala Pageant
  rose 1961 Sears ad
Berkeley fuschia 1940 Fuschia Contest Winners Told
Alameda dahlia 1940 Hundreds Visit Alameda Dahlias
San Leandro dahlia 1958 San Leandro C of C Dahlia Show Starts

Links and References

  1. Prize White Dahlia Given to California City Popular Mechanics April 1917
  2. Various Notes Florists' Review February 15, 1917
  3. Notes American Florist 1917
  4. On The Air Oakland Tribune March 21, 1929
  5. Luther Burbank's Plant Contributions by W. L. Howard, UC Berkeley, 1961
  6. New Flower Ballot Idea Blooms Oakland Tribune June 25, 1961
  7. City Picks Chrysanthemum As Oakland's Official Flower Oakland Tribune June 15, 1961
  8. Council Soft Pedals in Petal Controversy—No Official Flower for City of Oakland Oakland Tribune July 19, 1961