Spring Royalty

Queen Elizabeth I Portrait from WikipediaI’m always curious about the origins of words.  I was surprised a few months back to discover that Virginia and West Virginia were named after Queen Elizabeth I of England, referred to as the Virgin Queen because she never married.  Today I learned that North and South Carolina are named after King Charles I of England.

Charles I Portrait from Wikipedia

You can learn more about the etymology of U.S. State names by clicking here.

But that is not what this post is about!  It’s about Spring Beauties, two species of which can be found around here in Western New York.

 Claytonia virginica and Claytonia caroliniana have similar range maps covering a good chunk of the eastern side of North America – including a few states west of the Mississippi.  Perhaps when they were originally discovered, the former was found in the area named in honor of the Queen and the latter in an area named in honor of the King?  I don’t really know.

Claytonia virginica Claytonia caroliniana
Claytonia virginica – left; Claytonia caroliniana – right.

“What’s the difference?” you may well ask!   “And how do you remember?”

Well, I’ll tell you, but be warned… my brain has twisted ways of remembering things.  The flower on the left is C. virginica.  Notice the slender, paired leaves.  These narrow straight leaves form the letter V where they meet the stem, as in V-irginica.  OK, technically, the leaves on C. caroliniana also form a V, but read on…  The flower on the right is C. caroliniana.  Notice the more rounded leaf below… dark and out-of-focus though it is.  This leaf is rounder, like the o in car-O-liniana.

The photos above were taken last spring.  On Sunday when I was out, I found only buds…  and I didn’t get the right angle on this photo to tell which variety.  I bet by today or tomorrow, there will be blooms!
Wow - That's a Lot of Buds

For whatever reasons, eastern field guides call the Queen’s flower Spring Beauty leaving out any reference to Virginia.  The King’s flower, however is called Carolina Spring Beauty.  Newcomb’s claims that both varieties inhabit “moist woods.”  Peterson’s says that Spring Beauty (C. virginica) is found in “moist woods” and that Carolina Spring Beauty (C. caroliniana) is found in “woods and uplands.”  Whatever…

1753 Spring Beauty Herbarium Sheet by John Clayton


And what about their first name, Claytonia?  That came from John Clayton (1694-1773), an early collector of plant specimens in North America.

There are 28 species of Spring Beauties continent-wide.  If you don’t live in the virginica-caroliniana range, fear not.  Click here for information on a species near you!

Where in the Blue Blazes Have You Been?

So, what do you do when the thermometer says 18 and the weatherman is crying, “Lake Effect Snow Warning!”  I go hiking, of course!  My friend Terry and I took the dogs to the Red House entrance at Allegany State Park yesterday.  Just inside the entrance, we scooted off to the right up Bay State Road.  When you get past the village of Red House, this road is closed in winter (read “used by snowmobiles and people with 4-wheel drive trucks”).  We drove up to the bridge, parked, and started walking.  After hiking about a mile, the snow started.  There was already a bit of snow on the ground in the park:

Lake Effect - Finally

The mile of hiking along the road to this open field is through woods, mostly, with a beaver dam or two off to the right.  Once you get to this field, there is a road that leads up a very steep hill and connects to the Eastwood Meadows trail (#17 on the official park trail map).  We hiked partway up this hill, then stopped to rest.  When we turned we saw one of the most beautiful vistas of the rolling Allegany hills I’ve about ever seen.  Unfortunately… I was feeling too winded and lazy to get my camera out of my backpack knowing more of the hill was ahead of us.  Plus, I figured we would head down this mountain later and I could snap a photo then…  Wrong!  We came back a different route…

Speaking of vistas, just so you know…  The steepest part of the road up to trail #17 goes through a stand of fairly young trees.  The part on the official trail map that says you will have an incredible view is a lie… because the trees now block that view.  Darn that Nature… always changing on you!

Terry - Coffee Break TimeAt the top of the hill, we decided it was coffee break time.  Here’s Terry, reaching in his backpack for the thermos.  Notice the perfectly lovely tree against which he is leaning.

As we sipped coffee and rested, we kept hearing loud creaking and cracking.  Here’s why:

Creakin' Crackin' Branches


I suspect that right branch, all rotted and cracked, will not be there the next time I hike this trail…  I’m glad it didn’t come crashing down while we rested.  It might have broken my camera, or Terry’s thermos…

Subtle Shadows

IMG_0201The official hiking trails at Allegany are marked with blue blazes and/or blue hiker tags.  Once when we momentarily lost sight of the blue blazes, Terry asked, “Where in the blue blazes are we?”  which prompted us to wonder about the origin of that phrase.

The Free Dictionary just says that if you use “blazes” in a question like that, it shows surprise or anger.  It also says if someone does something “like blue blazes” they do it a lot.  Apparently we are not the only ones who wondered if it came from a hiker:  <Click here>.

The best explanation, however, is at Word-Detective dot com!

Dear Word Detective: While on a hike the other day, I began to wonder whether there was any connection between the “blazes” used to mark hiking trails (which are sometime blue) and the term “blue blazes” as used in the expression “Where in the blue blazes have you been?” I stopped wondering only when I found I had ignored the blazes for too long and wandered off the trail. Perhaps you could steer me in the right direction. It seems the two “blazes” should be connected, which based on the columns of yours I’ve read almost certainly means they are not. — Steve Bromley, via the internet.

Yeah, that’s me, the Grinch Who Stole Intuitive Insights. Actually, my motto is “Not Necessarily” rather than “Probably Not,” and in this case there may well be a connection.

There are three kinds of “blaze” in English. The “fire” sense of “blaze” comes from the very old Germanic word “blason,” meaning “torch,” and was known in English by 1000 A.D., although it was spelled “blase” for several hundred years. “Blazes” as a slang expression derives from this sense and originally referred to the flames of Hell. The “blue” in “blue blazes” is just an alliterative intensifier and has no real meaning. Thus, “Where in blue blazes have you been?” is just a euphemistic way of saying “Where the hell….”

This enormous tree had a blue paint blaze, rather than a metal sign... I do not have a blue blaze on my shoulder.  That is my backpack.  Aren't Mozart and Lolli cute?The second sense of “blaze” comes from an old Dutch word “blasen,” meaning “to blow,” and is, in fact, based on the same Indo-European root as “blow.” This sense of “blaze” is now obsolete, but until the 19th century it meant “to trumpet,” either literally by blowing a trumpet or bugle, or figuratively, by loudly proclaiming or boasting.

Meanwhile, back in the woods, we have the third sense of “blaze,” which comes from the Old Norse word “blesi,” meaning a spot or patch of white on the face of a horse or other animal. To “blaze” a trail originally meant to strip a patch of bark from trees along one’s route, exposing the lighter wood underneath and thus marking the trail for those who follow. It is possible, since the underlying sense of this “blaze” is “bright or shining,” that it is related to the “fire” sense of blaze, which would make “blue blazes” a distant cousin of “blazing a trail.”

(Are you still reading this?)

Not a Coyote... It's Mozart!After our coffee break, we took the downhill side of loop #17 back toward the trailhead.  Not on the official park map there is a horse/snowmobile trail that leads down to Lockto Hollow and to Bay State Road.  We took that back to the truck.

It was a very beautiful walk through a variety of habitats.  Our favorite was where we found Very Old Trees!  Tom, if you’re still reading, where is the Old Growth part that you take people to?  Were we in it?

Also… Dear Allegany State Park:  I think it is time to make new trail maps.  Love, Jennifer


Deptford PinkNo, not entomology, the study of insects.  Etymology:  “the history of a linguistic form”.  In other words:  where words come from.  I’m always fascinated to learn where words come from.  Two flowers gave me the opportunity to learn some etymology just this week.

First, the word pink.  Did you know the word comes from a flower that has that color.  Originally, the word pink meant small (like your pinkie finger!).  Here’s what I found on the ‘Net:

The word pink is generally agreed to be derived from the similar Dutch word pinck. However, there are two theories about which sense of the Dutch word was involved, and how it became applied to the colour. One is that it came from pinck in the sense of “small” (which turns up in the modern English word pinky for “little finger”), through the expression pinck oogen “small eyes” — that is, “half-closed eyes” — and that this was borrowed into English and applied to the flowers of the common English cottage-garden species Dianthus plumarius, which has been called a pink since the seventeenth century. The other theory says it came from pinck in the sense of “hole” (which is the origin of pinking shears, the device used to make ornamental holes in cloth) and was applied to the flowers of Dianthus because they resembled the shape of the holes. Either way, the colour comes from the plant, not the other way round.


NipplewortSecond… a new plant for me.  I keep seeing this plant.  Everywhere.  I finally decided I needed to learn its name.  Wow.  How does a plant get a name like “Nipplewort”?  The suffix “wort” means plant.  I figured the first half of the word must relate to a medicinal use?  I was right.  But the name itself – well – somebody just made it up!  Look: 

“Camerarius [a Nuremberg physician and botanist] saith that in Prussia they call it Papillaris, because it is good to heale the ulcers of the nipples of womens breasts, and thereupon I have intituled it Nipplewort in English.” Theatrum Botanicum; or an Herball of Large Extent, 1640, page 811


So, there you have it.  Remind me someday to tell you my favorite word etymology.