Who’s Got the Button(bush)?

Buttonbush flowers and developing seed head

 

The children’s game called “Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?” isn’t complicated. One child, carrying a hidden button, appears to transfer it into the waiting hands of every other child standing or sitting in a circle. Then, everyone tries to guess who actually received the button.

The flowers of buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis ) wouldn’t do so well for the game; they’re both too large and too delicate. Still, they’re as attractive as the plant is useful. Commonly found in wet open areas, low woods, thickets, swamps, river bottoms and stream or pond edges, buttonbush can live in up to 2 feet of water. This combination of blooming flowers and developing seed head was perched at the edge of a small lake near the Watson Rare Plant Preserve in east Texas; one of my own feet was planted in the water as I took the photo.

Though tolerant of shade, buttonbush blooms most profusely in full sun. The pincushion-like flowers — actually one-inch round ball-like clusters of white blooms — provide nectar for a variety of bees, butterflies, wasps, moths, and beetles, and an assortment of birds are known to visit. Its seeds are favored by waterfowl, and some mammals feed on its twigs.

Widely distributed across the eastern half of the United States, this easy-to-grow native makes a fine addition to gardens and landscapes where moist to wet conditions prevail, although some have found it capable of adapting to drier areas. Its fruits, deep red and sometimes glossy, will last throughout the fall.

Pond Creek Wildlife Management Area ~ Northwest Arkansas

 

Comments always are welcome.

Eat Your Veggies, but Admire Them, Too

Summer squash blossom (Cucurbita spp.)

Our native wildflowers are beautiful, but there’s no need for the flowers of our squash, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant to feel inferior to the Coreopsis and Gaillardia.

During a peach-picking trip to a local farm, I took time to walk the rows of ripening produce and found myself especially charmed by the squash blossoms. They resemble slices of cut cantaloupe: another member of the Cucurbitaceae, or gourd family, that will be appearing in farmers’ markets soon, and the flowers themselves are edible.

 

Comments always are welcome.

The Flower With Flaxen Flair

Winged flax (Linum alatum) ~ Brazoria County, Texas

In his poem “The Wreck of the Hesperus,”  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow describes the young daughter of the prideful captain: 

Blue were her eyes as the fairy-flax,
Her cheeks like the dawn of day,
And her bosom white as the hawthorn buds,
That ope in the month of May.

It’s unlikely Longfellow was comparing the child’s eyes to any of our native blue flaxes (such as Linum lewisii ), since none are found in the northeast. He may have been familiar with the introduced, blue-flowered species cultivated for food and fiber, L. usitatissimum, or even with L. perenne, another introduced species sometimes included in gardens for the blue accents it provides.

Whatever the source of his analogy, the comparison is apt — at least, for eyes. In extolling the flaxen-haired beauties of myth and history, poets obviously are referencing a different sort of flax. When I discovered the yellow-orange flaxes native to Texas, I thought they might have given rise to the expression.

Berlandier’s yellow flax (Linum berlandieri) ~ Gillespie County, Texas

As it happens, neither flower is the source of the expression ‘flaxen-haired.’ During processing, fiber from the plant’s stalks becomes soft, lustrous, and flexible, and takes on the appearance of blonde hair. The use of ‘flaxen’ to mean “the pale yellow colour of dressed flax” appeared in the mid-15th century, and literary references to flaxen hair appear as early as the 1520s.

Published in 1852, Leconte de Lisle’s Chansons écossaises, or Scottish Songs, included the poem La fille aux cheveux de lin, or “The Girl With the Flaxen Hair.”

Sur la luzerne en fleur assise,
Qui chante dès le frais matin?
C’est la fille aux cheveux de lin,
La belle aux lèvres de cerise.
L’amour, au clair soleil d’été,
Avec l’alouette a chanté.
Sitting amidst the alfalfa in flower,
Who sings in the cool morning hour?
It is the girl with the flaxen hair,
The beauty with cherry lips so fair.
Love, in the summer sun so bright,
Sang with the lark for sheer delight
Berlandier’s yellow flax (Linum berlandieri) ~ Bandera County, Texas

Between late 1909 and early 1910, French composer Claude Debussy included his composition “La fille aux cheveux de lin”  in a first book of Préludes. A simple, glowing composition inspired by the poem, it suits our flaxen-petaled flax perfectly. You may recognize Debussy’s piece; you’ll surely enjoy it.

La fille aux cheveux de lin

 

Comments always are welcome.