Introduction (‘Blood – Root’)
For the past two weeks I have been obsessed by the thought of emerging bloodroot, a wildflower I have loved since childhood that grows just outside my door (among other places). This obsession, and I take each one seriously, always provokes the same question: what’s really going on here? Bloodroot does not bloom under four feet of snow, and my guess is that this year one of my favorite wildflowers won’t burst with white stars until June.
Today, I also remembered with astonishment that in the old ways, Mother’s Day occurred on March 25th, the time when ‘Becoming’ begins, long before the snow recedes. I’m struck by the difference between the two mothers’ days, this one seems so much more authentic, no room for sentimentality when we face this messy, muddy turning from winter to spring (at least in the Northeast).
But I digress…To discover the root of my obsession I started writing as I always do to figure out what’s happening beneath my awareness. The following narrative seemed to write itself. Ah, the root of my obsession with ‘Blood – Root’ was more about my Motherline than the flower! As I wrote the story, I was flooded with memories of my mother that have been obscured by long term mother – daughter confusion and abuse. Abuse twists and distorts memory, so we forget the good parts of what we once knew. After I finished my story I ‘re -membered’ a mother I loved too deeply, one who taught me about wildflowers, how to identify, transplant, and care for them. Clearly her love for these wild plants was passed on to me. And I have carried my mother’s wildflower torch all the days of my life. Even if my mother didn’t have much use for me. No way to know. Enjoy!
We knelt together my grandmother, mother, and I carefully placing freshly dug plants in the rock garden under the swaying white pines. We were transplanting wild columbine, dutchman’s breeches, maidenhair and Christmas ferns in between the silvery gray spikes and star like bloodroot flowers that were buzzing with bees. Those who had already bloomed had huge, notched palm sized leaves. Seed capsules were forming. The year before we had scattered forget – me not seeds, planted wild violets, and dug in the bloodroot that grew so profusely in the woods.
Sprays of blooming forget me nots and violets in shades that varied from deep purple to lavender blue and white had already spread throughout the rock garden along with the bloodroot. Worried about disturbing roots that bled crimson when spaded up by accident, I was also distracted by the scent of trailing arbutus with its leathery leaves that had spread so quickly, their tendrils almost reaching the bench under the pines. Each pale pink or white flower possessed a perfume so fragrant I was compelled to kneel, as if in prayer, to soak in the scent.
The day my mother and I planted the trailing arbutus it was raining. We had recently returned from Maine with two burlap bags of precious cargo, two clusters of leathery leaved arbutus that had so much soil around them that it dwarfed the plants. My mother had insisted that extra soil was necessary to allow the trailing arbutus to thrive. How did she know? 60 years ago, we had no idea that trailing arbutus as well as all wildflowers had a complex mycorrhizal relationship with the mycelial net beneath our feet? When wildflowers are transplanted without extensive foreknowledge few survive.
Three years earlier my brother, my father and grandfather and I had collected the rich loam from the moist woods where an abundance of wildflowers grew. Together we built up and graded a hill in front of the ledge. Below, my father dug a shallow pond that was fringed with irregular flat stones. My mother directed the placement of each rock throughout the garden and the pond with an artist’s keen eye. My father built the beautiful granite bench from old stones piled behind the farmhouse, and it sat between the two pines that shaded the garden from the heat of the afternoon sun. My brother and I were excited because my dad had also constructed a complex waterfall that cascaded down the stony hill to mist the wildflowers and feed the pond that was large enough for two children/adolescents and green frogs to wade in!
The rest of the wildflowers – spring beauties, Canada Mayflowers and other anemones, trout lilies, trillium, lady slippers came in time, all transplanted from our woods where they were abundant. Except for hepatica, a delicate blue flower that appeared at the moist edges of the field. Already becoming rare in our area, my mother was unwilling to risk moving even one plant.
The wildflower garden thrived for years under my mother’s, grandmothers, and my careful attention. It wasn’t until my grandmother’s death in 1974 that my grandfather filled in the pond and spread her ashes amongst the masses of wild bloodroot. A fitting memorial.
Wildflowers like the ones I helped plant so long ago remain the ones most dear to my heart. When I moved to the mountains, I brought bloodroot, trillium, anemones, trout lilies and various ferns with me and created my own wildflower garden that continues to thrive today. I still search for wildflowers recording wherever I find them. I have yet to find hepatica. These days I never dig up any wildflower or plant that I find. With a couple of exceptions. When the Gore Road was widened and bulldozed again, in utter desperation I removed the last of the shriveling trailing arbutus, lady slippers, and trillium hoping to save these flowers from extinction. To my satisfaction all survived with trailing arbutus spreading everywhere throughout this property, but I never would have risked transplanting it (or any of the others) without knowing exactly what to do and knowing from experience the kind of habitat these plants must have to thrive. My mother and nature taught me well.
All the wildflowers mentioned here are native to the Northeast. Still considered ‘common’, my field work as a naturalist suggests otherwise. We know that wildflower habitats are being destroyed by heavily traveled trails (even on foot), logging, housing, global warming etc.
Every day I give thanks for the forests that being left to re-wild themselves by visionary people, some whom I am privileged to call friends, for herein lies the key for wildflower survival.
Happily, there are alternatives to digging these plants in the wild if you are interested in creating a wildflower garden. Mc Laughlin Gardens in South Paris sells some native wildflowers and there are a multitude of heirloom wildflower and seed catalogs available to anyone that is interested.
My only two caveats: please do not remove any wildflower from the wild, and please do thoroughly research any wildflower you wish to plant after purchasing, because each has very specific requirements.
Another piece of information worth knowing is that in most places the wildflower show is over by the end of May!