RICHMOND, JAN. 28 -- Gov. L. Douglas Wilder delivered a potted fern, bedecked with an American flag and a yellow ribbon, to the headquarters of the Department of Motor Vehicles here today, an action apparently designed to defuse a flap over displays of support for the Persian Gulf War in state buildings.

Sporting a small American flag and yellow ribbon on his lapel beneath the Bronze Star ribbon he won in Korea, Wilder told reporters and dozens of amused DMV customers standing in lines for driver's licenses and car tags that he was demonstrating "how we feel" and how patriotic exhibits "can be appropriately placed" in public buildings.

In placing the plant, which he brought from the governor's mansion, in the lobby, Wilder reversed a policy announced last week that restricted the placement of flags and ribbons in DMV branches to employees' personal clothing and desks.

The maneuver also served as a preemptive strike against a Republican-organized rally against the policy in Capitol Square later this morning.

The statehouse rally, organized by Joseph Elton, executive director of the state GOP, attracted several dozen participants, some of whom carried signs that urged "stop DMV flag ban" and implored Wilder to "show us your support for troops."

Del. Raymond R. "Andy" Guest Jr. (R-Front Royal), who introduced a resolution in the House of Delegates Friday chastising Wilder and demanding that DMV employees "be allowed their First Amendment rights," called the original policy "a bunch of stuff we throw in the {manure} spreader and take out on the fields."

Guest and Sen. Joseph R. Benedetti (R-Richmond) led the crowd in singing "God Bless America" and in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

Elton said ,"Obviously this rally did not make the difference, but the spontaneous reaction by citizens over the weekend did make the difference."

Elton said of Wilder, "We're proud of him today. He did the right thing."

The Governor's Office said it received about 1,000 calls on the issue, nearly all of them complaints.

Wilder said he had been "under the impression that there had been large window displays" in a suburban Richmond branch of the DMV that impeded the conduct of business.

Once he learned that the displays were small and personal, he said he decided to reverse the order of DMV Commissioner Donald E. Williams.

After Wilder's visit, Williams said that the display that was ordered removed last week could be put back.

Wilder spokeswoman Laura Dillard said the original announcement to restrict the displays was an extension of a policy enacted two years ago that banned supporters of political extremist Lyndon H. Larouche from passing out literature in DMV branches.

The chairwoman of the Employees Association of the Department of Motor Vehicles, Martha Freeland, congratulated the governor for his action today.

She said many department employees were upset because the original policy "made us look unpatriotic."

Before the U.S. attack on Iraq, Wilder said that he favored giving more time for economic sanctions to work.

But since the decision was made by President Bush, with the backing of Congress, to go to war, Wilder has said it is important to "show our support for the troops."