The newest addition to my "library" is Flowers and Flower Lore, by Rev. Hilderic Friend. Published in 1884, it has over 700 pages of flower history, legends, and poetry! Needless to say, I can hardly bear to put it down, which makes a couple of kittens rather jealous! So Nastya decided to make me stop reading for a while and I guess she succeeded very well! 😃
There's something about a kitten's eyes that I just can't resist...and they know it too! 😊
"Nothing is older, better known, or more disregarded", writes Professor James Rhoads, "than the proverb that tells us of a weakness peculiar to man, which induces him to despise what he can have with little trouble or expense, no matter how beautiful it may be. This moralizing has little to do with flowers, but some of the prettiest and most neglected of flowers have something to do with it—for they caused it". And the particular flower he had in mind was the pretty Garden Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus). True, it seems to have held its own in our gardens, but perhaps it has not been quite appreciated as it should be! Interestingly enough, there are very few poetical associations with this flower, and I am not the first to notice this. In her book Flora Domestica (1823), Elizabeth Kent says that "notwithstanding the glowing and sunny beauty of this well-known flower," it seemed to have been "almost overlooked by those immortal bestowers of immortality, the poets".
The Nasturtium is a native of South America and was brought back to Spain by the Spanish physician and botanist Nicolas Monardes (famous for his work, Joyfull News Out of the New Found World, and after whom the genus Monarda is named). From there it seems to have been introduced to France, and later to England. Several 19th century writers give the year of its introduction to England as 1686, but Gerard writes in 1596 that he had received seeds for "this rare and faire plant" from a friend in Paris.
It was first known as Indian Cress, possibly because the Americas were still considered to be a part of the Indies at the time, and because the leaves and flowers were used in salads like Cress. Another old English name for this flower is Lark's Heel. This name must have come somewhat later, as Gerard does not mention it as a name but simply compares it to the Field Larkspur (Consolida regalis), because "unto the backe-part [of the flower] doth hang a taile or spurre". But in Shakespeare's The Two Noble Kinsmen, mention is made in the opening song of "Lark's-heels trim". According to the notes I have found in the back of an edition published in 1906, this is believed to be the Nasturtium, not the Larkspur, as might be supposed! I have not been able to find out when it came to be called Nasturtium, since it is not very closely related to the true Nasturtium genus (indeed, at least one 19th century writer calls it a foolish name!) but I did learn that the word is derived from the Latin naris, a nose, and torquere, to twist, a possible reference to the rather bitter smell! The genus name Tropaeolum is derived from the Greek Tropaion, a trophy, and was given by Linnaeus, who, I am just finding out, had quite a lively fancy! It is said that the leaves, resembling shields, and flowers like blood-stained helmets, reminded him of an ancient Roman custom in which the Romans set up a trophy pole where they hung the armor and weapons of their vanquished enemies.
About 1762, at the age of 19, Linnaeus' oldest daughter Elisabeth Christina noticed something unusual about the Nasturium flowers in her father's garden at Hammarby. Walking in the garden at twilight, she observed that the bright reddish flowers seemed to be giving off flashes of light at certain intervals. She reported this to her father, and later even published a paper entitled Om Indiska Krassens Blickande (Concerning the Flickering of the Indian Crass), in which she questioned whether the flashing came from the flowers themselves, or were rather an illusion of the eye. Her discovery attracted the notice of several noted scientists of the day, who attributed it to different causes, such as electricity, phosphorescence, or simply a wild imagination! There is a very interesting article published in Paxton's Magazine of Botany in 1836 by a Mr. J. R. Trimmer, considering all the different possible causes. He writes that this phenomenon is not "more wonderful than that the electric eel and torpedo should give voluntary shocks of electricity; and in this plant perhaps, as in those animals, it may be a mode of defense, by which it harasses or destroys the night-flying insects which infest it, and probably it may emit the same sparks during the day, which must be then invisible. This curious subject deserves further investigation. The ceasing to shine of this plant after twilight might induce one to conceive that it absorbed and emitted light like the Bolognian Phosphorus, or calcined oyster shell. The light of the evening, at the same distance from noon, is much greater, as I have repeatedly observed, than the light of the morning; this is owing, as I suppose, to the phosphorescent quality of almost all bodies in a greater or less degree, which thus absorb light during the sunshine, and continue to emit it again for some time afterwards, though not in such quantity as to produce apparent scintillations.”
He goes on to quote Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles), who writes: “In Sweden a very curious phenomenon has been observed on certain flowers, by M. Haggren, Lecturer on Natural History. One evening he perceived a faint flash of light repeatedly dart from a marigold; surprised at such an uncommon appearance, he resolved to examine it with attention, and to be assured that it was no deception of the eye, he placed a man near him, with orders to make a signal at the moment when he observed the light. They both saw it constantly at the same moment. The light was most brilliant in marigolds of an orange colour, but scarcely visible in pale ones."
Mr. Trimmer claims to have "often observed the curious circumstance of the flashing of flowers, with out being at all able to ascertain its cause. Sometimes I have been almost led to suppose it to be an optical deception, occasioned by an impression made on the eye by the bright colour of the flowers from which the coruscations seemed to proceed. But at times I have seen the flashes of light so vivid and plain, and extend to so great a distance, that it is impossible for me longer to entertain that opinion; besides, too, I have seen the flashes proceed from pale-coloured and even white flowers, which would not make that impression on the eye. On the whole, I am much inclined to believe it to be electric, particularly from a circumstance which occurred a few years ago. In walking in my garden in the evening, in which was a considerable quantity of the Nasturtium in bloom, not at all thinking of the flashing of plants, I was struck by the very vivid flashes that proceeded from them, the scintillations were the most brilliant that I had ever observed, and at the same time the sky was overcast with a thunder cloud; directed by this circumstance, I have on several occasions looked for the flashes, when in the evening there has appeared electric clouds collecting, and have always found them, at that time, most to abound, and to be most brilliant."
The poet-scientist Goethe seems to have been the first to realize that this unusual flashing, which had now been observed in other brightly colored flowers, including the Calendula, African Marigold, and Sunflower, was indeed an optical illusion caused by the brilliant flowers amongst the leaves in certain light conditions, pointing out that this flashing was only seen in a flower which comes sideways into the field of vision. Professor F. A. W. Thomas confirmed this in 1914. "It is perceived", he says, "in twilight, which makes red brighter and green duller than they appear in full daylight. As the image of the red flower moves from the peripheral part of the retina, where the rods are red-blind, to the fovea, the red is perceived somewhat more vividly than before, and this image coincides with the Purkinje after-image of the surroundings, giving the impression of a flash". This curious marvel is still known as the Elisabeth Linnaeus Phenomenon. There are even a few references to it in poetry, such as these beautiful lines from Samuel Taylor Coleridge...
'Tis said, in summer's evening hour
I heartily agree with Elizabeth Kent, who says that surely this flower is as worthy of a poet's praise as so many others that have been immortalized..."singular leaves, fire-coloured flowers, a lady, sparks of light, and an evening,—what might not a poet make of all these?"
"Botany—the science of the vegetable kingdom, is one of the most attractive, most useful, and most extensive departments of human knowledge. It is, above every other, the science of beauty. "
I believe I mentioned in an earlier post that I was anxiously awaiting the arrival of a copy of Gray's School and Field Botany, as well as his Manual of Botany. I have had both of them for about a month now and what treasures of knowledge they are! Dr. Gray was known for his clear explanations and sometimes I even feel like I am there, seeing him showing and explaining these wonders of the plant world in person!
I have been surprised and delighted by how many examples can still be found even in the depths of winter, especially when it comes to buds. Here is an illustrated example of a Lilac's growth, with a pair of axillary buds in place of the terminal bud, making a "repeatedly two-forked ramification". This was just one of those many little things that I realized I had never noticed or thought of before, and I hurried out to our old Lilac bush to see this small wonder!
The past few days I have been studying leaves. I have to admit it is still all quite confusing to me, and I am looking forward to summer when I can look for living examples of the different forms described and see these differences in person. But just as I was feeling somewhat discouraged yesterday, I happened to be out shoveling snow around my greenhouse when I glanced up and saw some dead leaves still left on the branches of the Mountain Ash tree! And almost subconsciously I thought, "Ah, it has compound, odd-pinnate leaves!". Well maybe I am learning something. 😊 I have to keep reminding myself of Dr. Gray's words in the Preface of his School and Field Botany: "This treatise should teach that the study of botany is not the learning of names and terms, but the acquisition of knowledge and ideas. No effort should be made to commit technical terms to memory. Any term used in describing a plant or explaining its structure can be looked up when it is wanted, and that should suffice".
Thank goodness, because I would be hopelessly lost otherwise!
Another wonder Dr. Gray has revealed to me is how the buds on many trees, as well as the underground buds of herbaceous perennials often contain the next spring's leaves and flowers, "ready formed, folded, and packed away in small compass". Well don't ask me what I thought buds were before! Of course I must have had a vague understanding that this was the case, but never gave it much thought. This has given me a new interest in trees in winter. And looking at all those buds, knowing just what they are filled with, is quite comforting!
"This explains how it is that vegetation from such buds shoots forth so vigorously in the spring of the year, and clothes the bare and lately frozen surface of the soil, as well as the naked boughs of trees, very promptly with a covering of fresh green, and often with brilliant blossoms. Everything was prepared, and even formed, beforehand."
One of my favorite winter trees is the Speckled Alder (Alnus incana). It is beautiful in winter with its drooping catkins. and we certainly have an abundance of it!
Male catkins, with the smaller female catkins in the background...
Last year's fruit...
When I have finished Gray's School and Field Botany, I plan to move on to his Botanical Text-Book, for Colleges, Schools, and Private Students (just ordered from Amazon and scheduled to arrive tomorrow!!). Yet as much as I want to know about how plants "live and move, and have their being", I hope I will never lose sight of the simplest charms in a flower, like the botanist in Emily Dickinson's poem...
"I pull a flower from the woods,
I may be a little old for a playhouse, but when I saw a video on making a quick winter shelter in the woods the other night, I had to try it! This shelter would be good for spending a night out in the woods during the winter months, provided you have a warm blanket or sleeping bag along! In my case I had no intention of sleeping in it, but I thought it would be a good thing to know how to do "just in case", and I made mine with a few simple variations because I planned to use it as a daytime shelter when I just want to spend some quiet time alone in the woods.
The woods are magical right now after a fresh heavy snow!
The first step in making this is to dig a trench in the snow wide and long enough for your body. I made mine extra wide to have room to turn around easily. A thick layer of fir or spruce boughs are laid on the bottom and sides, and the supports are laid across the banked snow.
And more boughs are laid across the top. You can also add a layer of snow over the top for more insulation but I decided not to bother...I'm sure nature will take care of that soon enough! 😁
The inside is cozy and smells soooo good! I made an entrance on both ends so I could enjoy two different views!
The view out the front door...
And the back...
I'm very happy with my new "playhouse" and it gave me a sense of accomplishment as well, knowing that I would know how to make a shelter in the woods if necessary! This will be a lovely spot to relax and maybe even read on milder days. I'm hoping to see some wildlife too. There are an abundance of deer, fox, and lynx tracks around here. But the woods are in the depths of a mid-winter peace right now...almost the only sound I hear is my own breathing!
I just came across this beautiful little story today and thought some of you might also enjoy it. This comes from an anonymous book published in 1843, entitled Floral Fancies and Morals from Flowers. I wish I had known this story when I first wrote about the Twinflower (Linnaea borealis) last fall!
A gigantic Pine Tree had, for upwards of four centuries, reigned in solitary grandeur on the heights of a rocky mountain in Swedish Lapland. Beneath the snows of those 400 winters he had beheld the few vegetable productions which grew around him, repeatedly concealed, and frozen by their bitter blasts, apparently destroyed. He had sometimes even beheld man, the lord of creation, fall benumbed and lifeless at his feet; while he, still proudly defying the storm, grew on, full of sap and vigour.
The pride of this lordly Pine “grew with his growth, and strengthened with his strength.” Seeing nothing above him, he fancied that the world could not produce his equal; for ever ascending, he aspired to reach the highest heaven; and beholding every green thing, except himself, wrapt yearly in a shroud of snow, he even thought himself immortal.
At the foot of this Alpine monarch grew a little trailing plant, buried each year beneath the snows of winter, and nearly concealed beneath the moss in summer. This little plant was so utterly unknown, that it could not even boast a name. When the magic breath of a Lapland spring had suddenly variegated with spots of verdure the barren site they occupied, two travelers were one day seen approaching the lofty Pine and his lowly companion. The former beheld them, while yet afar off, making their toilsome way up the rough ascent which led to the foot of his rocky throne. “Poor dwarfish creepers!” apostrophized the vegetable giant; “ye are, doubtless, coming hither to offer homage to my greatness." As the two men drew nearer, one, indeed, looked up at the stupendous tree in seeming admiration; but the eyes of the other were chiefly bent towards the earth. On reaching the Pine's foot, the first individual began to take careful measure of its enormous circumference, while the attention of the second was engaged on a far different object—the little red and white blossoms of the nameless plant, of which he had just caught a glimpse through their dark green veil of moss. He stooped to gather; looked at them with delight, considered them with attention, and then pressed them with enthusiasm to his lips. In what opposite and what erring estimation did the Pine Tree hold the actions of these two travellers. Pleased at the notice bestowed on him by the first, he whispered, with proud complacency, “’Tis a pity, oh man, that thou shouldst be so frail a creature; since, weak and little as thou art, thou canst sometimes appreciate the great and powerful. But, as for thee, contemptible being!” he continued, apostrophizing the younger traveller, “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!” and the Pine shook his sombre branches, as though laughing in derision. But the Pine would have trembled, and not have laughed, could he have looked into the thoughts of the elder traveler, the man whose taste he had commended, for he would have read therein his own approaching doom. That man, it is true, had scanned, 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; in plain terms, the elder traveler was a timber-merchant of Lullea, and, in his mind's eye, the Pine was already condemned; its career of fancied immortality cut short by the woodman's axe, and its trunk, the growth of centuries, transformed into “the mast of some great ammiral,” or sawn into planks of red deal for some less noble purpose. In a far different spirit to his companion had the younger traveler lifted carefully from the ground, and admired the modest beauty of the weed without a name. He was 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.” He who spoke thus was one of the brightest luminaries of science—the polar star of botany—the great Linnaeus; and the Linnaea is the humble plant he then discovered.
It's hard to believe yet another year is coming to an end. 2018 was a wonderful year in many ways and I am looking forward to seeing what the coming year brings!
"A new heart for a New Year, always!"
When I started thinking about what to do for a New Year's post, I thought I would go through my pictures again and share "just the highlights"...but there were so many! Well, here goes and I'll meet you at the bottom! 😁
What a winter we had! This one has been easy by comparison!
Lots of indoor plants and early spring seedlings helped me to survive!
Spring came at last and was much appreciated!
Celebrating Mid-summer with music and flowers!
Summer in the garden...
Adventures in Canada (PEI, Cape Breton, and the Bay of Fundy)...
Learning about herbs...
A visit to the Orono bog...
Field and forest flowers...
The golden autumn...
Winter windowsill gardening is a joy!
Wishing each and everyone of you every joy and blessing in the year to come!
It is almost two years since my beloved cat Stripe passed away. We had him for almost 17 years...since he was a tiny kitten and I was only 6! He was the family cat but the two of us had a very special bond. I've missed him every single day.
For a long time I wasn't sure I wanted another cat, but lately I've been missing having a feline friend around, although no cat could ever take his place. So, when my father told me that some friends were looking for a home for their kittens, I decided to take them in! These little ones have stolen my heart already. They are so sweet and playful and love to explore. They've just been getting used to all the new sights and sounds today (we brought them home last night) but now they are settling in very well and I do believe they have adopted me as their mommy! They have been following me all over the house and getting in my lap every time I sit down...and showing considerable jealousy when I try to read!! 😃 We think they may be part Bengal as their markings are a bit different from a typical tabby.
Meet Nastya and Olga...
I love them so much! ❤
"Behold glad nature's triumph! Lo, the sun
"The scene is steeped in beauty; and my soul,
Come, view the winter’s beauteous scene,
The hoary frost upon the trees,
And snowy garlands, here and there,
And back of all this wintry gleam,
And when he spreads his dazzling light,
We’re glad there is such beauty left,
"Who would believe, that a most interesting and edifying book, and that, too, a romance, could be written, the scene of which should be laid in a dungeon-yard, and the main character should be a simple flower, that finds its way up between the flagstones?"
Yes, it may sound too wonderful to be true, but there really is such a book! I just read it and was so touched by it that I had to share my new-found treasure with you!
Picciola: The Prisoner of Fenestrella, or Captivity Captive, was written by the French novelist and playwright, Joseph Xavier Boniface-Saintine solely for his own enjoyment, but a friend happened upon the manuscript, read it through entirely in one sitting, and persuaded him to have it printed. Published in 1836, it was translated into English two years later and immediately became wildly popular in America. The Richmond Review called it "The most charming work we have read for many a day", and the New York Review wished "that those who rely on works of fiction for their intellectual food, may always find those as pure in language and beautiful in moral as Picciola."
It was beloved by several famous American authors, including Emily Dickinson, who received the book from her cousin and thanked him thus: "I'm a 'Fenestrellan captive,' if this world be 'Fenestrella,' and within my dungeon yard, up from the silent pavement stones, has come a plant, so frail, & yet so beautiful, I tremble lest it die. This is the first living thing that has beguiled my solitude, & sometimes I fancy that it whispers pleasant things to me - of freedom - and the future. Cans't guess its name? T'is 'Picciola'; & to you Cousin William, I'm indebted for my wondrous, new, companion."
Perhaps what makes this story so beautiful is the sweet simplicity with which it is told. As the author himself says in the preface, "Here are no stirring incidents, no thrilling love tale. And yet there is love in what I am about to relate; but it is only the love of a man for...Shall I tell you? No, read and you will learn".
By now you must be dying to know what the story is about, so I will tell you! The hero of the story is a young French nobleman, Count Charles Veramont de Charney, who by the age of twenty-five is already a master of seven languages. He has "a vast facility for learning" and devotes himself to the study of philosophy and metaphysics. At last, overwhelmed by contradicting truths, he loses his faith in both God and man, and comes to the conclusion that chance alone is the father of creation.
"Chance became his God, nothingness his hope!"
He seeks happiness in society. He gives concerts, balls, and hunting parties, yet he cannot find pleasure in them. His own great learning causes him to pity and despise the ignorance of his fellow men. At last, he throws himself into politics and joins in a conspiracy against Napoleon Bonaparte, for which he is arrested and imprisoned in an old fortress on the Italian border - Fenestrella. Here he is deprived of all communication with the outside world. He is allowed neither books nor pen and paper. He is alone with his own thoughts, which have oppressed him for so long and now become unbearable. Yet here, in the courtyard of his prison, where he is allowed to exercise for an allotted time each day, he is surprised by "a feeble growth", a tiny seedling, who, by its wondrous marks of design, rebukes his denial of an intelligent Creator.
"How had that tender, delicate plantlet, so fragile that a touch would destroy it, managed to lift up, divide and cast aside that soil baked and hardened by the sun, trodden down by himself, and almost cemented to the two fragments of stone between which it was confined?"
Daily he watches its progress, still trying to believe that it is the result of Chance, albeit a happy chance, but always the plant refutes his arguments. As he observes it closely, he is amazed to find that this tiny plant is provided with everything it needs to grow and survive even in adverse conditions.
"These things you would have known long since, Sir Count, if, stooping from the abstract regions of human knowledge, you had ever deigned to lower your gaze to the simple, humble works of God".
He soon comes to love his little plant tenderly, passionately. He fears for it in storms and even shelters it from hail with his own body. He watches eagerly for its first bud, its first flower. When he falls ill, Ludovic, his jailer, makes a tea of some of the leaves and he recovers. He owes his renewed faith and reason, yes, his very life to that plant, which he calls his Picciola (little one). He studies it constantly. He can tell the time of day by the strength of the flowers' fragrance. With the help of a microscope, a gift from his fellow prisoner and future father-in-law, he makes more discoveries, which he begins to record on cloth with a makeshift pen and ink.
But now Picciola is outgrowing her small crack in the flagstones. The sharp edges begin to cut into the sides of her stem and she is dying. Charney wants to remove a few of the stones to save her, but his jailer, a rough but kind man, who also feels an affection for the plant (he calls her his "goddaughter") nevertheless observes his own orders strictly and tells him that he must appeal to the commander of the fortress. At first, in his pride, Charney refuses, but he remembers all he owes to the plant and finally submits. But the commander refers the request to the governor, and the plant will die while he waits!
Ahh, I could go on and on, but I am telling you the whole story! So I will not give away too much more, except to say that the request is finally granted for Picciola through the intercessions of the Empress Josephine, herself (as is well known) a lover of flowers.
In the end, the Count is pardoned by Napoleon, who, having read the observations written on the handkerchiefs, which had earlier been confiscated (I didn't give away that part, anyway!), comes to the conclusion that "Count Charney is a fool, but a very harmless fool".
"A man who thus subjects his thoughts to a blade of grass", said he, "may make a very good botanist, but no conspirator".
I am so delighted with this book! It is no exaggeration when I say that it is the sweetest, most beautiful story I ever read - and I have so many favorites! I read the whole book in 24 hours, quite a record for me! But this story was something so near and dear to my heart, and in many ways I could relate to it from my own experiences. My love for plants has changed my life too, though perhaps not quite as dramatically!
A few more notes... You know how I enjoy finding familiar plants mentioned in stories. I was hoping to learn the identity of Picciola, and paid close attention to every description of the flowers, leaves, and fragrance, but to no avail. Her flowers are described as white, purple, and pink, with "tiny, silvery rays". Her fragrance became stronger towards evening. From the rapidity of her growth and flowering, one would think she was an annual, yet it seems that she is expected to return with the next season. The jailer refers to her as a 'gillyflower', but then he admits that "to my eyes all plants are more or less gillyflowers". My hopes were up near the end of the story, when the Count, still imprisoned but now enjoying certain special favors, is given some books on botany and begins to try to discover Picciola's true name. But then he begins to fear...what if her name turns out to be something like Hydrocharis morsus? Or in English, what if she bear a name like fly-trap, dog's-tooth, mouse-ear, or goat's beard? At last, casting aside the books, he exclaims, "Why should I consult you? Her name is 'Picciola'! Nothing but 'Picciola'! the prisoner's plant, his comforter, his friend! Why should she need another name, and why should I care to know?". Well, perhaps the author had no particular flower in mind when he wrote this, or at any rate he didn't care to reveal it!
I will close with yet another of my favorite passages from this enchanting book. I do hope you will be inspired to read it for yourself! 😊
"Of what use to the flowers are their sweet odors? Do they themselves enjoy them?
P.S. You'll be happy to learn that our great internet dilemma is over! We were only disconnected for a day! 😊
I am a passionate gardener and seed-saver, who also enjoys playing the violin and accordion, running, spending time with my 4 golden retrievers, keeping chickens, photography, and reading.