Wildflowers Worth Knowing

Wildflowers Worth Knowing is the title of a book by Neltje Blanchan.  Emily found a copy in the camp library and brought it home to show me.  The original copyright appears to be 1917.  This edition was adapted by Asa Don Dickinson and published by Doubleday, Page & Company in 1925.  I searched the Internet to see if it is still in print and found that there is no longer a copyright for the book in the US and that you can download it from several sites.  (Here, for example.)

With that in mind, I simply must share with you a passage from the book that just makes me giggle.

Indian Pipe; Ice-plant; Ghost-flower; Corpse-plant

Monotropa uniflora

Flowers:  Solitary, smooth, waxy, white (rarely pink), oblong bell-shaped, nodding from the tip of a fleshy, white, scaly scape 4 to 10 in. tall. Calyx of 2 to 4 early-falling white sepals; 4 or 5 oblong, scale-like petals; 8 or 10 tawny, hairy stamens; a 5-celled, egg-shaped ovary, narrowed into the short, thick style.

Leaves:  None.

Roots:  A mass of brittle fibres, from which usually a cluster of several white scapes arises.

Fruit:  A 5-valved, many-seeded, erect capsule.

Preferred Habitat:  Heavily shaded, moist, rich woods, especially under oak and pine trees.

Flowering Season:  June-August.

Distribution:  Almost throughout temperate North America.

Indian PipesColorless in every part, waxy, cold, and clammy, Indian pipes rise like a company of wraiths in the dim forest that suits them well. Ghoulish parasites, uncanny saprophytes, for their matted roots prey either on the juices of living plants or on the decaying matter of dead ones, how weirdly beautiful and decorative they are! The strange plant grows also in Japan, and one can readily imagine how fascinated the native artists must be by its chaste charms.

Yet to one who can read the faces of flowers, as it were, it stands a branded sinner. Doubtless its ancestors were industrious, honest creatures, seeking their food in the soil, and digesting it with the help of leaves filled with good green matter (chlorophyll) on which virtuous Indian Pipevegetable life depends; but some ancestral knave elected to live by piracy, to drain the already digested food of its neighbors; so the Indian Pipe gradually lost the use of parts for which it has need no longer, until we find it to-day without color and its leaves degenerated into mere scaly bracts. Nature had manifold ways of illustrating the parable of the ten pieces of money. Spiritual law is natural law: “From him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away.” Among plants as among souls, there are all degrees of backsliders. The foxglove, which is guilty of only sly, petty larceny, wears not the equivalent of the striped suit and the shaved head; nor does the mistletoe, which steals crude food from the tree, but still digests it itself, and is therefore only a dingy yellowish green. Such plants, however, as the broom-rape, Pine Sap, beech-drops, the Indian Pipe, and the dodder–which marks the lowest stage of degradation of them all–appear among their race branded with the mark of crime as surely as was Cain.

No wonder this degenerate hangs its head; no wonder it grows black with shame on being picked, as if its wickedness were only just then discovered! To think that a plant related on one side to many of the loveliest flowers in Nature’s garden–the azaleas, laurels, rhododendrons, and the bonny heather–and on the other side to the modest but no less charming wintergreen tribe, should have fallen from grace to such a depth! Indian Pipe SeedheadsIts scientific name, meaning a flower once turned, describes it during only a part of its career. When the minute, innumerable seeds begin to form, it proudly raises its head erect, as if conscious that it had performed the one righteous act of its life.

Is that some wonderful writing, or what?  I can’t wait to read some of the other accounts!

12 thoughts on “Wildflowers Worth Knowing

  1. Jennifer I love your blog. The pictures are exceptional and the info is great! I love to learn about the nature where we live and then go out and find it. Thanks.

  2. That is such a nicely written, interesing and creative way to discribe the Indian Pipe which seems to be so abundant this year in my area…perhaps due to all the rain we’ve had.

    I imagine the rest of the book is also discriptive. Worth getting. I think I will have to download it.
    Thanks for sharing

  3. Thanks Jennifer for giving us easy access to this wonderful book. The old writers gave us much to ponder (even if we don’t agree with their moral judgments!) in addition to plant descriptions. I’ve encountered excerpts from this book before, but now I can read the whole thing. Thanks to you.

  4. The writing style of nature writers pre-1950s is truly delightful. Sometimes they can be difficult to wallow through, but in the end, who can deny that back in those days writers had a magnificent command of the English language. How sad to see it reduced today to vowel-less abbreviations because we have no time to think as we write. Let’s add the slow word movement to the slow food movement! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Ahhhh! No one writes like that anymore it seems! Thanks so much for sharing this, loved it! Field Book of Ferns by Herbert Durand, copyright 1927 begins: Here are fifty fascinating ferns of the wild, whose ancestry antedates Adam by unnumbered eons, and whose myriads of fair and friendly children await your coming..Their ways are truly ways of pleasantness and the path to their dwelling places is a path of perfect peace. (A gift from the author of Squirrels View!)

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