Midwinter Spring

Crow Poison  ~ Nothoscordum bivalve

A member of the lily family, this delicate native — sometimes called Crow Poison and sometimes false garlic — is one of our earliest spring wildflowers. On the morning of January 7, a scattering of these plants, basking in dew-drying sunlight alongside a Brazoria County road, brought to mind a portion of T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding.”

Midwinter spring is its own season,
Sempiternal though sodden towards sundown,
Suspended in time, between pole and tropic.
When the short day is brightest, with frost and fire,
The brief sun flames the ice on pond and ditches
In windless cold that is the heart’s heat,
Reflecting in a watery mirror
A glare that is blindness in the early afternoon.
And glow more intense than blaze of branch, or brazier,
Stirs the dumb spirit: no wind, but pentecostal fire
In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing
The soul’s sap quivers. There is no earth smell
Or smell of living thing. This is the spring time
But not in time’s covenant. Now the hedgerow
Is blanched for an hour with transitory blossom
Of snow, a bloom more sudden
Than that of summer, neither budding nor fading,
Not in the scheme of generation.
Where is the summer, the unimaginable
Zero summer?
                                             “Little Gidding” ~ T.S. Eliot

Comments always are welcome.
For the complete text of “Little Gidding,” please click here.

Ordinary Elegance

Some say that the wildflower known as Crow Poison was used by the Cherokee to eliminate crows that ate their corn. Today, Crow Poison (Nothoscordum bivalve) is better known as a pretty native wildflower that spreads from Arizona to the Atlantic coast, and from Texas north through Illinois and Ohio.

Its genus, Nothoscordum, combines the Greek words for ‘illegitimate’ (Nothos)  and ‘garlic’ (scordum). In fact, Crow Poison often is called false garlic, and sometimes is confused with wild onion, but it neither smells nor tastes like either of those plants.

As its buds emerge, they’re initially encased in two translucent membranes like those shown in the photo above. In time, those membranes dry and become two bracts beneath the flowers: the  ‘bivalves’ of the specific epithet.

One of the first early spring flowers to appear, Crow Poison often reblooms in the fall. On the other hand, it sometimes persists through every month, as it did this year: opening on warm sunny days and closing in cloudy or cold conditions. An early spring food source, the flowers are especially attractive to small butterflies, green metallic bees, bee flies, and syrphid flies.

When I first met Crow Poison, it was a part of the Liliacea, or lily family. Eventually, I discovered sources were including it within the Amaryllidaceae, or amaryllis family. Imagine my surprise when I found it moved into the newly constituted Alliaceae, or onion family!

Taxonomy can be taxing, but there were good reasons for the recent changes. Writing for Pacific Horticulture, Dean Kelch’s article titled What Happened to the Liliacea is one of the best I’ve found. It’s an easy read: well organized and understandable for non-specialists. It includes a helpful list of forty families formerly included in the old Liliaceae, as well as a listing of some of the familiar genera within each family.

Taxonomy aside, there’s nothing more lovely than these small, oft-ignored but elegant signs of spring. Today, they’re still scattered, but in time they’ll be filling pastures and roadsides with their own drifts of white.


Comments always are welcome.