A Basket-Flower for May Days


May baskets, a cherished tradition during my childhood, were tiny crepe paper baskets or paper cones filled with flowers, strung with ribbon, and hung at the front doors of family and friends. Creating them, then delivering them on May Day, was as popular as the May Pole dances that also celebrated the coming of spring. A snippet from an NPR article describes it perfectly:

A reporter in the Sterling, Ill., Gazette in 1871 explained the seasonal ritual this way: “A May-basket is — well, I hardly know how to describe it; but ’tis something to be hung on a door. Made of paper generally, it contains almost anything, by way of small presents you have in mind to put in it, together with your respects, best wishes — love, perhaps. It is hung after dark at the door of anybody the hanger fancies. — Which done, the said hanger knocks and scampers.”

May baskets may have gone out of fashion among humans, but I smiled to see nature providing her own version on April 30: just in time for May Day. The American Basket-Flower (Plectocephalus americanus, or, more familiarly, Centaurea americana), was budding and blooming at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge.

Although it looks rather like a thistle, it has none of the thistles’ negative attributes. Its appearance reminds me of my grandmother’s bachelor buttons: Centaurea cyanus. Those were small enough to be included in a May basket, but with blooms as much as five inches across, it’s good that one of my favorite flowers provides its own ‘basket’ — the intricately woven, straw-colored bracts beneath the flower head.

When this basket-flower appears, it’s summer that’s knocking at the door.


Comments always are welcome.