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? 😊


  1. Beautiful flowers, lovely poetry!

    Thanks for sharing.


    1. I wonder if you ever see it there? The way I'm picturing your woods, seems like an ideal habitat for it! :)

  2. You seem to have happened upon the Mother Lode of Linnea. :) I don't think I've ever seen twinflowers in the wild. We mostly have spring beauties and violets.

    1. Haha, I guess so! :) I think Linnaea borealis is becoming more and more rare further south...I read that it used to be found as far south as TN but is now basically extinct there. It sure seems to be very abundant here though!
      I don't think I've ever seen Spring Beauties, but they must be delightful to have too! :)

  3. You have so many beautiful little flowers that we don't have here in Florida. Always enjoy your posts

    1. There must be some really amazing flowers in your FL woods too...I can just imagine! :)

  4. Surprisingly, nothing like in your woods. I used to ride my horse in the woods all the time.

    1. Wow, that is surprising! I was picturing something like the Amazon rainforests, with rare tropical orchids and who knows what other wonders. :) But although I've been to FL a couple times I've never been in the woods there.

    2. The orchids are in south Florida in the Everglades. We have wild alamanda(yellow), bindweed, creeping indago, beggerticks,matchweed,milk thistle,yellow woodsorrel,mulungu eruthrina vernea,(it is pretty and medicinal but you have to know how to use it). There are others also but none as beautiful as the ones you have. Heat and high humidity prevents many things from growing here. Lot of the ones above are really just weeds. I spent all afternoon digging and pulling beggar ticks out of the old garden so I can mow. They have pretty flowers but are a nuisance weed. I enjoy seeing your woods. I used to saddle up and be in the woods at daybreak and back home by the time it started getting hot. I really miss it. My horse of 28 years died and I didn't replace him. I have a bad back and can no longer ride. I used to breed and show registered quarter horses. I had 7 at one time. I do miss it, but I'm old now. Do all the things you want to while you are young. These are the best years of your life. Sure enjoy your blog. Veleria

    3. I just looked up all the ones you mentioned, as they are entirely new to me. :) It s so fascinating to learn what grows in other parts of the country and the world! But you do make me even more grateful for where I live. And the woods I explore are relatively tame...much of northern Maine is still wilderness and the woods contain some real rarities!