Sunday, March 14, 2010

Small Salvage

This morning, I picked a flowering branch from the camellia (needs pruning) and two from the forsythia (always need pruning) - but there is one spring flower that won't be touched.
The trout lily (seen here in a photo from the Carrboro Citizen) or dog-tooth violet or fawn lily or adder's tongue - that last the name I learned as a child in western New York - is a spring ephemeral, a small bulb that gives rise to a flower that lasts only a day or a few days. This is one of the great beauties, with a dangling single flower in clear yellow, the back of the petals shadowed in russet. The leaves are mottled with a brown pattern that gave rise to the name - supposedly, spotted adders or puff adders would hide in these patches of camouflage leaves. That never stopped me from picking the flowers by the (child-sized) fistful.
But I won't pick the flower that is starting to lift from one of two bulbs planted in my strip of woods at the back of the lot.
I salvaged these bulbs from the Bicentennial Gardens. Liberated. Removed. Saved. Over the past couple of years, the woodland garden there has been systematically treated with herbicides, I imagine in the service of replanting. Still, it was a shock to see the trout lilies, bloodroot, Virginia bluebells and others laying waste. I found two trout lilies in the boundaries of the footpath and reasoned that, if they had not already died from the herbicide, they would soon be trampled. I pushed them out of the mulch with a pointed stick and carried them away to replant.
Last year's heat and drought surely killed the bulbs, I thought. Yet when I went to inspect the birdhouses, familiar leaves had pushed through the leaf litter. And now a bud.
These little plants are precious to me. They remind me of my childhood, spent running barefoot through second-growth woods. And they remind me of the toughness of even the most ephemeral of joys.

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