USPS Puts Its Stamp On America’s Most Beautiful Blooms

Floral stamp from the USPS Pollinator stamp series

You may think that gardens and the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) have little in common, but The National Postal Museum, located in Washington, DC, is currently challenging that point of view. It recently opened an exhibition featuring the botanical art behind 50 years worth of floral stamps. And it’s delivered the goods just in time for the spring season.

Located in Gallery 6 on the lower level of the Museum, Beautiful Blooms: Flowering Plants on Stamps marks the first collaborative effort between the National Postal Museum and Smithsonian Gardens. Designed to commemorate the issuance of U.S. stamps featuring American botanicals, it displays 33 original pieces of conceptual art alongside the floral stamps they helped to develop.

The exhibit is colorful and uplifting and not only for the sheer beauty of the illustrations. Touring the artworks, I was struck by the decades of effort that have gone in to creating the stamps, for the sole purpose of raising awareness for our nation’s natural beauty.

Multi-color printing helped pave the way

Although the first U.S. stamps to depict flowers (as a frame) date back to 1920, flowers themselves appeared rarely in designs until the late 1950’s. This is when the Bureau of Engraving and Printing installed a series of new printing presses that enabled multicolor stamp printing.

Following the adoption of this revolutionary printing process, the U.S. and Japan in 1960 issued a joint stamp commemorating the centennial of the United States – Japan Treaty of Amity and Commerce. The 4-cent stamp featured pink cherry blossoms with the Washington Monument silhouetted in blue in the background.

Flowers became a central motif in 1966 with the launch of Lady Bird Johnson’s campaign to beautify America. Under her initiative, the Johnson administration, through the U.S. Post Office Department, issued a series of floral stamps to raise awareness (and funds) for the beautification of public spaces.

To develop the stamp design, several artists submitted color concept drawings for staff to review. Lady Bird, herself, played a key role in selecting the final images.

Concept art for 1966 stamp publicizing Beautify America campaign

In 1969, following the success of the first Beautify America stamp, a series of 4 stamps was issued to draw attention to public spaces at all government levels, from the federal to the state and local. Expanding on the theme, the winning images drew on a wider variety of species, including such iconic American plants as daffodils, tulips and cherry trees.

Approved art for 1969 stamp series

As a result of Lady Bird’s efforts (and sales of the stamps), the United States added thousands of flowering trees and plants to public roadways and parks during this period.

Four Seasons of Garden Flowers

In 1992, the USPS issued a sheet of 50, 29-cent stamps, featuring wildflowers from each of the fifty United States. In dedicating the Wildflower stamps, then- assistant postmaster general Gordon Morison said:

“Starting today, millions of wildflower stamps will begin blooming in the upper right corner of cards and letters. As these stamps blanket the postal landscape, they will carry two messages. One is the personal message written on the card or letter inside the envelope. The other is the message of the stamps themselves – that our nation’s wildflowers add natural grace and beauty to our lives.”

The stamps turned out to be so popular that the service subsequently created the Garden Flowers series of stamps, one for each season, featuring flowers typically found in the American garden. The series ran from 1993 to 1996.

Conceptual art for the 1993-1996 Garden Flowers stamp series

Final stamps

Pollination stamp

Apparently the USPS is no stranger to the link between flowering plants and their pollinators. In 2007, artists submitted designs for a stamp representing the symbiotic relationship between the two. The beautiful image (below) was not chosen, but represents one of the conceptual drawings for the Pollination stamp.

Concept image for Pollinator stamp series

The final stamps, a stunning digital compilation of images, featured horticultural illustrations seen from two different perspectives; one with pollinators in the center and the other with flowers as the central motif.

2007 Pollinator stamp series

Birds in the Garden Series

The creators of the 1982 Birds in the Garden series were Arthur and Alan Singer, the first-known father and son team to develop art for a U.S. stamp series. Their conceptual designs drew attention to the integral role birds play in the garden in controlling pests, aiding in pollination and adding color and beauty to the landscape. Arthur created the bird designs and Alan created the flowers.

A stamp in the 1982 Birds in the Garden U.S. stamp series

At the time of their issue, the Birds in the Garden stamps were the best-selling stamps in U.S. postal history.

The launch of the Rose Series

In 1986, President Ronald Reagan designated the rose, one of the most common images found on stamps worldwide, as the official flower and floral emblem of the United States. In 1988, Illustrator Richard Sheaff developed this concept art (one of many) for the 25-cent Love stamp. He based his drawing on a series of photographs of roses.

Concept art for 1988 25-cent Love stamp

By the 1990s, the rose stamp was being issued in numerous formats, including books, panes and coils. Artist Gyo Fujikawa created the 3rd, 4th and 5th designs.

The Rose stamp continues to be one of the most popular images sold.

Flowering Trees Series

These beautiful pieces of concept art immediately call to mind the images of Audubon. The stamp series featured flowering trees native to different geographic regions of North America portrayed in an old-fashioned botanical print style.

Approved art for Pacific Dogwood stamp

Final 32-cent stamp

The Botanical Congress

I wasn’t aware that there was a Congress devoted solely to botanicals, but the International Botanical Congress (IBC) meets every six years to discuss plant sciences research and nomenclature issues. It is tradition for the country hosting the event to issue a stamp in its honor.

These developmental artworks commemorate the 11th IBC held in 1969 in Seattle Washington. It was the first time Latin names had been used on botanical stamps.

1969 Botanical Congress commemorative stamp

For more information on this lovely exhibit, click here for The National Postal Museum’s website. On view now through July 14, 2019. The Museum is located directly across from Union Station.


Bridging the Gap: DC To Build First Elevated Park On 11th Street Bridge

Washington, DC’s 11th Street Bridge Park/Photo: OMA + OLIN Anacostia Crossing

There’s a new movement afoot that aims to turn old infrastructure into public parks, breathing new life into spaces that have long since been neglected or forgotten. Of these, the transformation of an old rail line into a 1.5 mile landscaped park on Manhattan’s West Side (the High Line) is perhaps the most well known. Now comes Washington, DC’s own variation on the theme: the 11th Street Bridge Park, the city’s first elevated park that will soon be floating above the Anacostia River. Continue reading

Cherry Blossoms Peak on Washington, D.C.’s National Mall

Washington Monument framed by cherry blossoms.

After decades spent living in the Washington, D.C. area, I have come to associate spring with the annual peaking of the cherry blossoms on the National Mall. And because of this long-standing tradition, I am perhaps more aware of the weather at this time of year than others who don’t live in the area. Some years, I’ve donned a heavy jacket to see the flowers, many years I’ve worn shorts. Still other years, fickle spring winds have spelled the early demise of the delicate pink blossoms. Continue reading

Miniature Mastery At The National Bonsai & Penjing Museum


In Japanese, bonsai translates roughly as ‘tray planting,’ but over the centuries the term has come to mean so much more. Today, bonsai and its Chinese predecessor penjing represent the highest forms of horticultural art. And happily, one of the best collections in North America of these amazing miniature trees and landscapes is located right here in Washington, D.C. It’s called the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum. Continue reading

Going Underground at the Washington National Cathedral

Washington National Cathedral/Photo: herebydesign/net

When summer temperatures start to soar, it’s a blessing to find a peaceful, secluded place to unwind. That’s why this time of year, I like to head to the Washington National Cathedral. I bypass the main sanctuary, though, and take the stairs down underground. There, I find cool refuge in the beautiful chapels of the lower level. Continue reading

Every City Has Its Limits: The Story of D.C.’s Boundary Stones

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Jones Point in Alexandria, Virginia, site of the first boundary marker

If you’re traveling to Washington, D.C., it’s good to know that the oldest federal monuments are not located on the National Mall, but rather at one-mile increments along a 10-mile square beginning at Jones Point, Virginia. Laid in 1791 and 1792, they are simple in form, but of great historical significance. They are the 36 surviving boundary markers of the original District of Columbia and the oldest federally placed monuments in the United States.

Continue reading