May…We Be Evergreen!

Around here–and probably around anywhere in the Northern hemisphere not covered with asphalt–May means wildflowers. Yes, like that childhood riddle, except that here May’s bringing more showers than April. My walks lately have been interrupted by…

Sea pinks

and

Larkspur (with Death Camas)

not to mention

Spotted Coralroot orchid, in its own ray of sunshine

Oh–and the salmonberries!

Not as delicious as you’d hope–but who cares?

But this month I also love to notice and give praise to a subtler kind of new growth…the kind that puts BOTH the “ever” and the “green” into “Evergreen State.” I’m talking about the fresh, new tips of our conifers. Now, pine trees make you suffer all sorts of pollen-clouds to get up close and personal with their newborn bits, but firs? Fir tips you can fondle.

Softer than you can imagine! (Also edible to more than just deer, though some might dispute the idea)

And hemlocks…well, their tips are just an adorable mini version of the firs.

Awwww…!

Not to forget our non-coniferous evergreens: the noble salal. You might focus on their honey-sweet, bell-shaped blossoms…but I’m looking at the bright, baby-soft new leaves.

Aren’t they sweet? Stop looking at the flowers.

Of course no forest looks truly LOTR-fantastical without ferns of some kind, or all kinds. The type we have around here don’t start as fiddleheads (thereby saving themselves from human over-consumption), but they do stand out–if not UP–as cutely floppy, gawky adolescents:

“Let’s be fronds.”

The most amazing new bit of green May growth to my mind, though, is one of the least visible: the mosses. On today’s walk, I was noticing one of my favorites turning slightly more golden, thinking, “Yeah, almost midsummer, time for these beauties to be dying back,” when I looked closer, and–whoa. Check this out:

Rated “M” for Mature

Fruiting thimgamagigs! Right out there for all to see, shameless! Gorgeous! Fresh! New! Woohoo!

Gimme an “E”! “V”! another “E”! “R”! Gimme a “G”! another “R”…!

OK, you get it. MAY we be green. MAY we be evergreen. MAY we be happy. 

 

A Lance-Leafed Stonecrop By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet…Maybe

“What IS that flower? Is that Small-flowered Lupine or Bicolor?”

“Why do you need to know? What possible difference does it make?”

“It makes a difference to ME.”

“Why? So you can show off your rad amateur naturalist skills?”

“No! I don’t need to tell anyone else. I just want to get it RIGHT.”

“Pfff.”

I have this same conversation with myself, on nearly a daily basis, during wildflower season. Wildflower season in the San Juans lasts about 9 months, so that’s a lot of conversations.

Point is, whether it SHOULD matter or not, to me–it does. Supposedly, I go for walks as exercise. Power walks. But gods help my fitness regimen should I venture out with a camera.

It starts as appreciation. “Oh wow, look at those wild roses go.”

The rest of the year, they’re just brambles.

“Let’s just take a closer look. Mmm, sweet!”

Ready for my close-up.

“Okay, walking fast again. But–oh my, have you ever seen such a THICK clump of Hooker’s Onion?”

Seriously, Mr. Hooker? Couldn’t you have named this flower after your wife or something?

By now my “walk” is a goner. “Ooh, wonder what the world looks like from the perspective of one of those Harvest Brodaeia?”

Not a bad life down here.

“PRICKLY PEAR’S IN BLOOM! ALERT THE MEDIA!”

Or better yet–don’t. Let’s just keep this rarity to ourselves, shall we? Cactus in the Northwest!

For that matter, why should the flowers have all the attention? Aren’t the new leaves of this Salal just as eye-catching as its blooms?

Caught MY eye, anyway. Silky-soft too.

And the new fronds of the Grand Fir? Good enough to eat!

Some people–and lots of deer–actually do.

Even Madrona bark looks floral in the sun.

Photo credit: My Special Tree

But the worst are those darn ID’s. “What IS this one? Gotta remember to look it up when I get home!”

Non-native, I’m pretty sure. Do I care? Nope. Just wanna KNOW ITS NAME.

Recently, however, my annoying need to NAME plants received a vote of confidence from a well-respected source: botanist and author Robin Wall Kimmerer. I started reading her book, Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses. Dr. Kimmerer is a Bryologist–a moss expert–and a member of the Potawatomi Nation. And right off the bat, she has this to say about the importance of names:

…Often, when I encounter a new moss species and have yet to associate it with its official name, I give it a name which makes sense to me: green velvet, curly top, or red stem. The word is immaterial. What seems to me to be important is recognizing them, acknowledging their individuality. In indigenous way of knowing, all beings are recognized as non-human persons, and all have their own names. It is a sign of respect to call a being by its name, and a sign of disrespect to ignore it. (p. 12)

Yes! Right?! Yes. That part that I highlighted in red…THAT is what drives me to name flowers, to get their names “right.” I want to recognize them, call them out, respect them. Would it matter if I got those names “wrong”? Of course not. I might as well call them Fred or Cindy. But taking the time to look up those names, talk about them with other flower nerds, think about where those names came from and whether they fit or not…THAT matters. To me, and, I like to think, to the flowers.

Hello, Fred. Or Cindy. (Or Menzie’s Larkspur, actually. No, I am NOT showing off.)

As for mosses, and Robin Kimmerer’s book…more on that, next post.

Are you a wildflower nerd like me? Care to weigh in on what drives you to NAME?

What’s the Wildflower Equivalent of a BirdNerd?

Birdwatchers call themselves Bird Nerds. What does that make someone like me–a Wildflower Wonk? Consider this a slang contest–best entry gets highlighted in the next Wing’s World post. 

Just so you know what you’re dealing with, imagine this conversation between us. I’m returning from my walk in the meadows and woods of my beloved isle. You’re…indoors. Doing whatever you want.

Me: The chocolate lilies are blooming!!!

You: Uh. Chocolate lilies sound special. Do they smell like chocolate?

Me: No. They’re uh, just, like, really rare.

You. Uh-huh. Are they outrageously gorgeous?

Me: No. Just kinda brownish. That’s why they’re called, you know, chocolate. But they’re rare! They’re special.

You: That’s nice.

Me: And did I mention the spotted coral root? It’s out, like, a month early!

You: When’s dinner?

lily

My Mate is not that bad–which is why I made you the other half of the conversation, not him. But you get the idea. I get so excited about rare wildflowers, I don’t care if they’re pretty or sweet-smelling or even mildly attractive. I am a total…

orchid

What? Who can do better than Wildflower Wonk? Let me hear your ideas.

Sorry, Dolly Parton: Wildflowers DO Care Where They Grow…And That’s Cool

Dolly Parton’s lovely song notwithstanding, wildflowers can be very picky about their habitat. But when they find a home, oh wow, do they show their appreciation. This week I’m giving special thanks for that. Since my sweet dog left us last weekend, I’ve been going for walks without a dog for the first time in ten years, and the flowers act like comforting hugs.

The Mate and I are especially blessed to live not only on a beautiful island, but adjacent to a piece of land that has recently been declared part of a National Monument (thanks, President Obama!). We walk out into the meadow to be greeted by a riot of flowers.

buttercups

 

Sometimes it’s enough just to appreciate them in a blanket. But usually I’m drawn down to my knees to inspect their delicacy up close. These flowers deserve a better photographer than me, but in my mind’s eye they’re captured exactly as they should be.

camas

But it’s the picky ones that are my favorites. The Calypso Orchid only grows in patches of woods where it can find a particular fungus it likes. Spotting one, so perfect in its intricate fleshiness,  feels like a special gift.

orchid

Then there’s the chocolate lily. I don’t think I love it just for its name, but that doesn’t hurt. Nearly brown (although with the sun shining through their petals, they are actually a gorgeous burgundy), they camouflage themselves among the buttercups and field chickweed. Then you spot one. Oh. There’s another. Oh, my. Suddenly you realize you are looking at an entire sweep of these tiny creatures that look like something from a very expensive bouquet.

lily

I was thinking about writing about the question, “Why do I care so much about knowing the ‘names’ of these flowers?” Or, “What is it about IDing something in nature that makes me feel so good?” But I’m really not feeling that philosophical right now. I am content to feel comforted.

Thanks, flowers. I needed that.

Favorite flower experiences? What do wildflowers do for you? Please share your special ones.