Sunday, June 15, 2008

Emblems of State

Syringa, or Lewis’s Mock Orange (Philadelphus lewisii) in full bloom at the nature center today. Waves of its sweet scent drifted on the breeze.

This species of Mock Orange was discovered by Meriwether Lewis during their infamous expedition through the northwest. It was designated as the official state flower of Idaho because the winning illustration for the Idaho state seal incorporated Syringa as part of the design. The artist: Emma Sarah Etine Edwards who had come to Boise from New York to visit relatives and liked it so much she decided to stay. She was the first and only woman to design a Great Seal of a state.

Then, in 1957, the Legislature decided to have Paul B. Evans update the seal "to more clearly define Idaho's main industries, mining, agriculture and forestry as well as highlight the state's natural beauty."

I found two images of the state seal, but it’s not clear which one is Edwards’ and which one is Evans’. Or if they are both Evans’, and one was just reproduced poorly. Only an Idaho historian knows for sure…


The large fir or pine tree in the foreground in the shield refers to Idaho’s immense timber interests. The husbandman plowing on the left side of the shield, together with the sheaf of grain beneath the shield, are emblematic of Idaho’s agricultural resources, while the cornucopias, or horns of plenty, refer to the horticultural. Idaho has a game law, which protects the elk and moose. The elk’s head, therefore, rises above the shield. The state flower, the wild Syringa or Mock Orange, grows at the woman’s feet, while the ripened wheat grows as high as her shoulder. The star signifies a new light in the galaxy of states. . . . The river depicted in the shield is our mighty Snake or Shoshone River, a stream of great majesty.
-Emma Sarah Etine Edwards, partial description of the Great Seal of Idaho

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