O, Canada, your maple leaf's all wrong

Jan. 23, 2013 | by Suzanne Cluckey

Once more, Canada's new polymer $20 bill has come under fire. But perhaps "fire" is an unfortunate choice of words, since one of the other knocks against the note is that it shrinks and disfigures when, say, left on the dashboard of a car in July, or more seasonably, by the wood-burning stove in January.

All the same, the latest to-do does not concern the composition of the note, but rather the creative license taken with it. For it seems that the iconic sugar maple leaf on the $20 isn't actually from a native Canadian sugar maple at all. According to at least one native botanist, it's the leaf of the Norwegian maple tree, an insidiously invasive species brought to Canada in the 1800s.

The blow-up over the allegedly erroneous leaf identity apparently made its way to that other frozen tundra, Russia, where it was reported in RT over the weekend. (Notwithstanding that Russian ATMs owners had a migraine-inducing time earlier this year accommodating that country's redesigned banknotes, including the most popular 500-ruble denomination.)

According to the RT report, Sean Blaney, a botanist who catalogues plants for the Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Center in New Brunswick, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that the Bank of Canada put the "wrong" maple leaf on the new version of the C$20 bill.

It may be a fine distinction, but it's an important difference to those who know the local flora well. "It's a species that's invasive in Eastern Canada and is displacing some of our native species, and it's probably not an appropriate species to be putting on our native currency," Blaney told CBC News.

In a side-by-side comparison, it seems pretty obvious that someone in the Canadian treasury ill-advisedly assumed that "a maple leaf is a maple leaf is a maple leaf." The edges of the native maple leaf are less pointed than those of the Norwegian maple leaf and have fewer sections. And this really does matter — perhaps not as much as knowing the difference between poison ivy and Virginia creeper, but still.

According to the RT article, the Canadian government insists that the difference is merely a matter of artistic interpretation, "It is a stylized maple leaf and it is what it ought to be," said one Canadian treasury spokesperson, explaining that the leaf is an amalgamation of 14 different maple varieties found across the country.

That "mash-up" explanation might have worked for Dali, but the Canadian treasury should know that it's impossible for the one to represent the many: It's seen this movie before. According to RT:

"Back in August, the Bank of Canada was accused of racism and forced to apologize after media revealed that the image of an Asian lab assistant on its new C$100 banknote had been replaced with a woman who looked more Caucasian, after focus groups responded that Asians should not be the only group represented."

Flora, fauna, fire-resistance — it's a lot to get right on just 30-square-inches of printed surface when there's an expert lurking behind every maple tree — all 14 varieties of them.

No wonder it's taken the U.S. Treasury more than a decade to accommodate the Justice Department's demand for a universally acceptable banknote*, one that will work in ATMs and perhaps as many as half of the nation's vending machines, and will please at least part of the people part of the time.

*(But, as a new mobile app proves, if you wait long enough, modern technology might just solve the problem for you.)

Read more about regulatory issues.

photo: birdseye studio

Topics: Regulatory Issues , Security

Suzanne Cluckey / Suzanne’s editorial career has spanned three decades and encompassed all B2B and B2C communications formats. Her award-winning work has appeared in trade and consumer media in the United States and internationally.
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