~Vick's Monthly Magazine, 1899
A long-awaited moment has finally arrived in the woods - the Linnaea borealis is in bloom! I just love this little flower, which was the favorite of Linnaeus himself. In my opinion, it is ample compensation for living in the cold, rugged North. So much so, that when the possibility came up early this spring that I would be spending the summer in VA (which obviously didn't happen!😁) I didn't really want to go, just because I would miss seeing this flower again!
I only saw it once last summer, and it wasn't until late in the fall when the taller plants had died back, that I realized how much of it there was in these woods, so I was looking forward to this time eagerly! You really have to know where to look for this pretty little plant because it is so easy to overlook. It prefers mossy, fir woods and I have now found several patches of it growing on fallen tree limbs covered with moss.
There is a delightful little fable (which I posted on my old blog last winter), from a book entitled Floral Fancies and Morals from Flowers, published in 1843. It is about a mighty Pine tree that had lived on a rocky mountain ledge in the Swedish Lapland for 4 centuries, witnessing the death of lowlier plants and even of man while seemingly he alone survived, until he thought himself immortal. One day, two men are passing by. The elder man looks up in admiration at the gigantic tree, but the young man's attention is drawn instead to a little creeping plant growing near the foot of the great tree. The Pine is condescendingly pleased by the first man's seeming appreciation of his might, but is indignant at the latter: "But, as for thee, contemptible being! thy mind and body are alike—both low and grovelling—thus to waste thy silly admiration on a dwarfish weed, and disregard myself, the most stupendous object on the earth. Thou callest thyself creation's lord! ah! ah! ah!”. It turns out, however, that the elder man was a timber-merchant from Lullea who had indeed seen "with admiration, the colossal proportions of the tree; but he had scanned them only with the calculating eye, and in the narrow spirit of a trader". The great Pine was doomed. The younger man, as you may have already guessed, was Linnaeus, "an ardent naturalist; one who truly 'looked through Nature up to Nature's God,' and was gifted with a mind imaginative, even to a degree which the dull plodder might have termed fancifully enthusiastic. 'Ah!' exclaimed he, addressing the little drooping flower, now, for the first time, drawn from its mossy shade, 'how well dost thou represent my own early career! Even as I was, thou art—a little northern plant, flowering early, abject, depressed, and long overlooked; henceforth thou shalt bear my name.' " You can read the original story here.
Anyway, the reason I brought the story up again, is because there is a spot in our woods where you could almost imagine this took place! This huge stump is much bigger in diameter than any of the standing trees in these woods. It must have been a glorious tree, and I have no idea how long ago it fell or was cut down. The stump is well rotted and partly hollow.
And just a few feet away, Linnaeus' flower is growing! I could hardly believe it the first time I noticed it this spring, and it immediately brought the story to mind. If I had children, I would bring them out here and then tell them the story. 😊
There are a few very beautiful references to this flower in poetry, including this in Emerson's Wood Notes...
In unploughed Maine, he sought the lumberer's gang,
Where from a hundred lakes young rivers sprang;
He trod the unplanted forest-floor, whereon
The all-seeing sun for ages hath not shone,
Where feeds the mouse, and walks the surly bear,
And up the tall mast runs the woodpecker.
He saw, beneath dim aisles, in odorous beds,
The slight Linnæa hang its twin-born heads,
And blessed the monument of the man of flowers,
Which breathes his sweet fame through the Northern bowers.
And this one by Lucinda Eliot...it is long but well worth reading. 😊
'Tis a child of the old green woodlands,
Where the song of the free wild bird,
And swaying of boughs in the summer breeze,
Are the only voices heard.
In the richest moss of the lonely dells
Are its rosy petals found,
With the clear blue skies above it spread,
And the lordly trees around.
In those still, untrodden solitudes
Its lovely days are passed;
And the sunny turf is its fragrant bier
When it gently dies at last.
But if from its own sweet dwelling-place
By a careless hand 'tis torn,
And to hot and dusty city streets
In its drooping beauty borne,
Its graceful head is with sorrow bowed,
And it quickly pines and fades;
Till the fragile bloom is for ever fled
That gladdened the forest glades.
It will not dwell 'neath a palace dome,
With rare exotic flowers,
Whose perfumed splendour gaily gleams
In radiant festal hours:
It loves not the Parian marble vase,
On the terrace fair and wide;
Or the bright and sheltered garden bowers
Smiling in gorgeous pride.
But it mourns for the far-off dingles,
For their fresh and joyous air,
For the dewy sighs and sunny beams
That lingered o'er it there.
O lonely and lovely forest-flower!
A holy lot is thine,
Amid nature's deepest solitudes,
With radiance meek to shine.
Bright blossom of the shady woods!
Live on in your cool retreat,
Unharmed by the touch of human hand,
Or the tread of careless feet;
With the rich green fern around your home,
The birds' glad song above,
And the solemn stars in the still night-time
Looking down with eyes of love!
Have you ever seen the Linnaea borealis? Is it your favorite woodland flower? 😊