Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Chill in the Air, Part II

My friend, Elizabeth, has correctly identified my mother's flower. Her comment on my last post sent me into a paroxysm of researches. After exhausting the internet, I turned to a couple of my favorite books.

Chief among them is a well-used (scratch that, I mean to say, it is practically impossible to use because its spine is cracked and the cover is falling off and the end pages are unattached) copy of How to Know the Wild Flowers by Mrs. William Starr Dana. My Mrs. Dana once belonged to J's Aunt Edna. It is dated 1906 and it is filled with Edna's footnotes ("For daisies--Indiana-Lincoln (#3) to Irving PR Blvd. Transfer West to Milwaukee Ave. Transfer South (Cicero) Ride about 5 blocks. Walk east.") The green volume is laced with dozens of botanical specimens pressed into the pages as if Aunt Edna was trying to collect one for one each and every of the book's entries.

I keep Mrs. Dana in a pride of place on my living room bookshelf. But these last few hours, I've been using the work in the way she intended.

Turtle-head (Chelone glabra) is of the Figwort family. It will grow one to seven feet high. Its stem is smooth, upright and branching. Its leaves are opposite, lance-shaped and toothed. Its flowers are white or pinkish, and grow in a spike or close cluster.

Of the turtle-head, Mrs. Dana says: "It seems to have been my fate to find the flowers which the botany relegates to 'dry, sandy soil' flourishing luxuriantly in marshes; and to encounter the flowers which by right belong to 'wet woods' flaunting themselves in sunny meadows. This cannot be attributed to the natural depravity of inanimate objects, for what is more full of life than the flowers? --and no one would believe in their depravity except perhaps the amateur-botanist who is endeavoring to master the different species of golden-rods and asters. Therefore it is pleasant to record that I do not remember ever having met a turtle-head, which is assigned by the botany to 'wet places,' which had not gotten as close to a stream or a marsh or a moist ditch as it well could without actually wetting its feet. The flowers of this plant are more odd and striking than pretty. Their appearance is such that their common name seems fairly appropriate. I have heard unbotanical people call them 'white closed gentians.' "

Well, Mrs. Dana, my turtle-head is thriving, rather flaunting itself, in a sunny spot, at the top of a berm and not anywhere close to where its feet could be wetted by a stream. Unbotanically, I thought it was a snapdragon. Thanks Elizabeth for setting me straight. And thanks too to you, Mrs. Dana. The Putterer

1 comment:

  1. Ha! I'm glad I could inspire you to a botonical quest! Now I'm going to be questing after my own Mrs. Dana. I love the long quote.