Flag looks fine but Nevada stamp riles native plant fans

Once again, Nevada has been placed in a false light, this time by the villainous U.S. Postal Service. Will the distortion never cease?

On Wednesday in Carson City, a new commemorative Nevada stamp will be unveiled with some serious hoopla, including Gov. Jim Gibbons and Jim Bilbray, a former Democratic congressman and member of the national postal service board. (The stamp itself has been on sale since Friday, since the postal service needs to make all the money it can get.)

The ocotillos to the right of the flag are the deceivers. Ocotillos are not native to Nevada.

They will grow here, but they aren't native. Native plant lovers are peeved.

Now, this isn't the kind of anti-government disgust that's going to rally thousands of Tea Party types to march on Carson City. But for those who take their plants seriously, such as Sonja Kokos and Matt Hamilton of the Nevada Native Plant Society, it's an affront.

"We have one of the highest plant diversities in the world," said Kokos, president of the plant society. "This is very disappointing."

As you can see, the stamp is pretty. But for purists, if it's not indigenous, it fails the authenticity test.The postal service has wronged Nevada.

The distinctive plant grows naturally in the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts ranging from southeastern California to West Texas and down into Mexico. But in Nevada, someone has to plant it.

It's too late now, but Kokos and Hamilton offered alternatives. The bristlecone pine, the state tree and the oldest living thing on earth, would have been native. A Joshua tree would have worked, even a Yucca. But those aren't particularly colorful. Kokos suggested the Las Vegas bear poppy, which is colorful, but then folks in the rest of Nevada would have felt slighted by a plant that includes the words Las Vegas.

When I called the U.S. Postal Service for comment, spokesman David Rupert said this is the first stamp in the Flags of the Nation series that has generated controversy.

(He's from Nevada, so he must know we're a proud but prickly people, although few of us are indigenous.)

Rupert said elements in the stamp are meant to be "snapshots of the state."

"According to the design standards, the stamp was designed to depict a 'typical' plant found in the state," Rupert said. "It's just meant to show to the rest of the nation what they generally might see on a Sunday afternoon drive in Nevada.

"The mountains on the stamp are not meant to reflect one range either. However, the flag is a perfect representation." (Considering how small the stamp is, that's no mean feat.)

The stamp's designer is a Delaware artist, Tom Engeman. For all the states, he was instructed to portray an ordinary scene or activity, or a typical plant or animal, but the stamps were not meant to be restricted to official plants, animals or products.

The Flags of the Nation stamps are released in a group, and sold as a group, so you can't buy Nevada stamps individually. But you can buy a roll of 50 for $22 and you'll get five stamps each honoring Nevada, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, plus the U.S. flag.

The public is invited to the 11 a.m. ceremony Wednesday on the steps of the Capitol.

No massive protests are expected.

Jane Ann Morrison's column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/morrison.


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