Saturday, June 29, 2019

My Little Northern Flower

"Sweet plant that in the forests wild clothes the rude twisted roots of lofty Pine and feathery Hemlock with the flower-decked garland, evergreen! Thy modest drooping bells of fairy lightness wave softly to the passing breeze, diffusing fragrance."  
                                                                                                         ~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 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? 😊

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Wildflower Wednesday: Meadow Buttercup (Ranunculus acris)

And O the buttercups! that field
O' the cloth of gold, where pennons swam,
Where France set up his lilied shield,
His oriflamb,
And Henry's lion-standard rolled:
What was it to their matchless sheen,
Their million drops of gold
Among the green! 
                                         ~ Jean Ingelow

   June is such a lovely month here in Maine. Just now the Buttercups are adorning our fields and roadsides. This beautiful wildflower is so abundant, I tend to take its loveliness for granted. But this spring I found myself looking forward to their blooming eagerly. And now they do indeed seem to me to be "drops of gold among the green", cheering my heart every time I look at them!

"The buttercup catches the sun in its chalice..."
   Our common Meadow Buttercup (Ranunculus acris) is one of about 500 species in the genus, belonging to the family Ranunculaceae. It is an introduced species throughout much of the world. In North America, it is native only to Greenland and possibly Alaska. As the specific name suggests, the plant contains an acrid juice that can even cause blisters. I have never had a problem after handling them, but Anne Pratt, in her book Flowers and Their Associations (1840) tells us that "Instances are common in which the wanderer in the meadow has lain down to sleep with a handful of these flowers
beside him, and has awakened to find the skin of his cheek pained and irritated to a high degree, by the acrid blossoms having lain near it". It is considered a weed by many. Cattle avoid it, making a pest to farmers...
Buttercups and daisies growing everywhere,
    In the field of clover, on the hillside fair,
    And in lovely valley, tilled with greatest care.

    Naught but weeds and rubbish, in the farmer's eyes,
    Drawing off the nurture from the grain they prize,
    And their great luxuriance sore their patience tries.

    But the dews of heaven give them richest bloom,
    And their smiling beauty drives away our gloom;
    For such little beauties surely there is room.

    In this world of sorrow flowers ne'er bloom in vain,
    Though they in their blooming sap the golden grain,
    And drink in the moisture of the latter rain;

    For our Heavenly Father deemed it wise and good
    To diffuse this beauty with the grain for food.
    And this wise arrangement He has never rued.
                                                                        ~Joseph Horatio Chant 

   But the sunny, cheerful Buttercup has always had plenty of admirers, and improved cultivars have even been welcomed into our gardens. William Curtis mentions double-flowered varieties as early as 1793. It is one of those plants which we fancy seem to prefer human company. Hugh MacMillan in his Poetry of Plants (1903) writes "The glaze of the Buttercup is of kindred character with the song of the lark that rises from the dewy field beside it in the blue air....They are both the outcome of the spirit of love that pervades all Nature. They both appeared at first to give Adam and Eve a bridal welcome. They are both the sign of the great marriage festivities of Nature...
   As the Buttercups came to welcome Adam and Eve in Paradise, so they have continued ever since the friends and companions of man. They are never found far from his home. They dwell in the meadows in which he feeds his cattle and the fields from which he reaps his bread. They never wander into the wilds of Nature....You never find Buttercups in the woods or on hills far from the haunts of man. You see them pausing on the very edge of a wood, and peeping into its shadowy recesses, refusing to enter, having those strange, mysterious wood-fears which prevent the sparrow and the swallow and the robin red-breast, and most of our familiar songbirds that take up their abode with man, from seeking its silence and lonesomeness. Everywhere the Buttercup belongs to the human world alone."
   What about you? Do you love the Buttercup? 😊  I'm joining Clay and Limestone today for Wildflower Wednesday. 

Friday, June 21, 2019

The First Day of Summer

Thou'rt come, oh, lovely Summer! I feel thee in the breeze,
That, warm and fragrant, from the South, is whispering through the trees;
I see thee in the varied hues of thickly springing flowers,
I hear thee in the song of birds among their leafy bowers!

I welcome thee, sweet Summer! I welcome thee again
To the garden and the hill-side, the valley and the plain;
The wintry feelings of the heart yield to thy magic sway,
As ice-bound waters at thy call burst from their chains away.

How wondrous and how beautiful are all the works of God,
From the tall pine to the smallest flower that springeth from the sod!
The winter storms and clouds show forth his terror from above,
But thou, oh, lovely Summer-time! thou tellest of his love!

Pass on thy way o'er all the earth, and visit every land,
To show the goodness and the power of an Almighty hand,
Which o'er the thorny path of life in mercy streweth flowers,
And with bright rays of sunshine gilds the pilgrim's darkest hours!
                                                                                           ~Marguerite St. Leon Barstow Loud

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Another Visit to the Woods

I paid another visit to the woods yesterday morning with the intention of looking for the Yellow Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum) which I knew ought to be in bloom by this time (they are later than last year). Well, I found them, and many other things besides! 😊

There are a couple of good-sized clumps around, as well as a few solitary flowers popping up in unexpected places. At one point I was looking for another plant but brushed against something with my hand and when I looked down, it was another Yellow Lady's Slipper! 

Yellow Avens (Geum aleppicum) is very abundant in wet places. I pretty much ignored it last summer, but now I think it's beautiful!

Wild Forget-me-nots (Myosotis sp.)...these were here before I planted the ones in my garden.

I passed lots of Meadow Buttercups (Ranunculus acris) in the field on my way to the woods...some of the flowers are quite large and so perfect!

Bluebead Lily (Clintonia borealis)...

A lovely patch of Canadian Lily-of-the-Valley (Maianthemum canadense) and Starflower (Lysimachia borealis)...

Bunchberry Dogwood (Cornus canadensis)...notice the variegated leaves on these! This is a very common plant in these woods (in some places the ground is literally carpeted with them!) but these were the only ones I've seen like this!

Sourtop Blueberries (Vaccinium myrtilloides) are in bloom...I will have to check these later in the summer for berries!

The Pink Lady's Slippers (Cypripedium acaule) are in full bloom also! And there are even more of them than I remembered from last year!

The white-flowered form (Cypripedium acaule var. alba) seems to be even more abundant than the pink. 

A magical spot!

I have often regretted that there are no violets in these woods...or so I thought! So I was delighted yesterday when, while making my way through an area so wet and muddy I wasn't expecting to find anything of interest, all of a sudden a tiny flower at my feet caught my eye! This is Kidney-leaved or Northern White Violet (Viola renifolia). There were quite a few of them in this area, but it must be nearing the end of their blooming time as there were only a few flowers left.

It always amazes me that after so many times in these woods, there are still new beauties to be found!

Sunday, June 16, 2019

What is so Rare as a Day in June?

No price is set on the lavish summer;
June may be had by the poorest comer.
And what is so rare as a day in June?

Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries the earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays;
Whether we look, or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur, or see it glisten;

Every clod feels a stir of might,
An instinct within it that reaches and towers,
And, groping blindly above it for light,
Climbs to a soul in grass and flowers;
The flush of life may well be seen
Thrilling back over hills and valleys;

The cowslip startles in meadows green,
The buttercup catches the sun in its chalice,
And there's never a leaf nor a blade too mean
To be some happy creature's palace;

Now is the high-tide of the year,
And whatever of life hath ebbed away
Comes flooding back, with a ripply cheer,
Into every bare inlet and creek and bay;

Now the heart is so full that a drop overfills it,
We are happy now because God wills it;
No matter how barren the past may have been,

'T is enough for us now that the leaves are green;
We sit in the warm shade and feel right well
How the sap creeps up and the blossoms swell;

We may shut our eyes, but we cannot help knowing
That skies are clear and grass is growing;
The breeze comes whispering in our ear
That dandelions are blossoming near. 
                         ~James Russel Lowell
                                       The Vision of Sir Launfal 

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Mt. Washington Auto Road

On our way home Monday morning, we decided to drive up the Mt. Washington Auto Road. This is the highest mountain east of the Mississippi and north of the Carolinas at 6, 288 ft. For over 60 years, Mount Washington held the world record for the fastest wind gust ever recorded on earth- 231 miles per hour, recorded April 12, 1934! The average wind speed for the month of June is 27.6 mph, which is just about what it was when we were up there. It was in the 80s (Fahrenheit) when we started up and 55 at the summit. 
But, when we arrived we found out that that day was one of two days in the year when the road is open only to motorcycles...just our luck! They did have some guided tours available though, so thankfully we were able to go up anyway.

I didn't manage to get a good picture of this sign as we drove past, but it reads: "The Mt. Washington Auto Road is a steep, narrow mountain road with no guardrails. At mid-mountain, there is one mile of gravel road before returning to cement. If you have a fear of heights, you may not appreciate this driving experience. Guided tours are available."  

We had over an hour to wait before our ride up the mountain, but there was plenty to do below as well. We enjoyed looking around the museum and seeing the old stage coaches that used to go up the mountain. They said it took about 4 hours to reach the summit in these, with 6 horses pulling.  I think it would have been much more fun than the vans they use now! 😁

Some beautiful Thyme-leaved Bluet (Houstonia serpyllifolia) growing outside the museum door. This was a common flower along the roadsides in many areas on our trip.

At last, we began the journey up! The road really wasn't as steep as we had anticipated. I enjoyed seeing the change in vegetation as we went up, from northern hardwood forest to boreal forest and finally to alpine. Our driver said there are some alpine flowers on Mt. Washington that grow nowhere else but in the Arctic. It was too early yet for many of them, but I did get glimpses of a few which I believe were Pincushion Plant (Diapensia lapponica) and Lapland Rosebay (Rhododendron lapponicum). Sadly, we weren't able to stop until we reached the summit because of the motorcycles so I couldn't see them closely or get pictures. 

The views were breathtaking all the way up! 

A nice view of Mt. Jefferson, the third highest mountain in NH at 5,712 ft. 

There were still quite a few patches of snow around in the higher elevations.

Near the treeline, all the trees were stunted and bent in one direction from the strong winds. 

We had an hour at the summit, which was all too short for me, even though it was a little chilly and I had forgotten my jacket. Here are some of the views from the was hard to choose just a few to share! 😊 We could hardly have had a more perfect day! Notice the one building chained to the ground!