Pipe Dreams

Indian Pipe ~ Monotropa uniflora

 

In his September 24 post featuring flowers from along Austin’s Bull Creek, Steve Schwartzman included this quotation from Jordan Ellenburg’s book How Not to Be Wrong: “Impossible things never happen. But improbable things happen a lot.”

Only three days later, as if to prove the point, a small collection of flowers known as Indian Pipe greeted me from beneath a large pine at the Watson Rare Native Plant Preserve. I’d seen photographs of them from locations as diverse as Montana and Massachusetts, but it never occurred to me that they might call Texas home. In fact, the plant prefers mature, moist, shaded forest, so the piney woods of east Texas provide a perfect environment.

Sometimes called the Ghost Plant because of its white, waxy appearance, the Indian Pipe has no chlorophyll and doesn’t depend on photosynthesis.

Once considered a saprophyte — an organism that feeds, absorbs, or grows on decaying organic matter — Indian Pipe today is understood as a parasite. Its roots extend in a web-like way through dead rotting leaves, extracting nutrients from the hyphae (fungal strands) of certain kinds of fungi.

Each stem bears a single flower which initially points down to the ground, helping to fend off rain. As the bud opens, it becomes parallel to the ground, making it more easily accessible for pollinating bees. After pollination, the flower becomes erect, and the seed capsule begins to mature; ripened seed is released through slits that open from the tip to the base of the capsule.  All three flower stages — pendant, perpendicular, and upright — are shown in the photo below.

Poet Emily Dickinson once called the Indian Pipe “the preferred flower of life.” In a letter to Mabel Todd, she recalled, “I still cherish the clutch with which I bore it from the ground when a wondering child, an unearthly booty, and maturity only enhances the mystery, never decreases it.”

So fond was she of the flower that she chose it for the cover of her first book of poems, published after her death.

Now that I’ve seen the flower, glowing like an apparition in deep forest shade, Emily’s poetic references seem especially appropriate:

White as an Indian Pipe
Red as a Cardinal Flower
Fabulous as a Moon at Noon
February Hour —

                    ***

Tis whiter than an Indian Pipe –
‘Tis dimmer than a Lace –
No stature has it, like a Fog
When you approach the place –

 

Comments always are welcome.

A Light in Spring

Detail of an early spring blue flag ~ Iris virginica

 

A Light exists in Spring
Not present on the Year
At any other period —
When March is scarcely here
A color stands abroad
On Solitary Fields
That Science cannot overtake
But Human Nature feels.
It waits upon the Lawn.
It shows the furthest Tree
Upon the furthest Slope you know
It almost speaks to you.
Then as Horizons step
Or Noons report away
Without the Formula of sound
It passes and we stay —
A quality of loss
Affecting our Content
As Trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a Sacrament.
                                       ~  Emily Dickinson

 

Comments always are welcome.
Photos can be enlarged by clicking on the image.

While We Weren’t Looking

It was little more than a hunch, but I sensed a change. The wind had been brisk, the temperature change sharp, and the nights cool enough to require jackets. It might have happened, I thought.

And so it had. From refuges to farms, across windbreaks and fencelines, color had come: wild, exuberant, and as glorious as in any remembered autumn.

Unfortunately, the color was gracing the despised and denigrated, cursed and criticized abomination known as the Chinese tallow tree. As ubiquitous an invasive as can be found, it creeps across prairies and sneaks toward woodlands,  displacing native grasses and forbs as it goes.

Still. For a very few days in autumn, its colors — yellow and taupe, pumpkin-rich orange, burgundy, the almost unearthly saturated red shown above — arrive to gladden the heart. Today, the weekend’s color surely is gone, thanks to the winds of our first strong cold front. But I was there to see it and, seeing it, to remember Emily Dickinson’s own paean to the colors of autumn.

The name of it is “Autumn”
The hue of it is Blood
An Artery upon the Hill
A Vein along the Road
Great Globules in the Alleys
And Oh, the Shower of Stain
When Winds upset the Basin
And spill the Scarlet Rain
It sprinkles Bonnets far below
It gathers ruddy Pools
Then eddies like a Rose away
Upon Vermilion Wheels

 

Comments always are welcome.