Saturday, June 30, 2012

SUMMER BLOOMS

Queen Anne's Lace in a parched field.

Last week, I attended a wonderful lecture by biologist, David Haskell (The Forest Unseen: A Year's Watch in Nature), who urged us to study the life in our own backyard and in so doing gain a deeper awareness and appreciation for the natural world around us. Now, I feel a bit cramped to study life in the small area he observed for a year – a square meter plot (10.8 square feet)! I’m more of an “along-the-highway” observer, and the wildflowers growing on roadsides fascinate me.
During this June weather when those of us on the Cumberland Plateau suffer from the effects of a horrific heat wave and are forced to stay indoors too much, I make a few forays outdoors to tend my domestic plants, which gasp for water. I see leaf wilt daily and flowers struggling to survive, despite the fact that I give the plants a drink twice a day. I had finally discovered deer and rabbit proof plants when the unusual heat wave struck and began to destroy my small garden.
So I’m inclined to confine my nature studies to jaunts in an air-conditioned car, viewing plant life in fields and along the road while traveling from Sewanee to Monteagle or from Sewanee to Cowan and Winchester, Tennessee. The sight that lifts the heat for me is that of Queen Anne’s Lace (otherwise known as wild carrot) growing in white patches along roadsides.
The umbrella-like inflorescence resembling lace reminds me of delicate snowflakes and a cooler time. The leaves look like those of carrots and are said to also resemble some poisonous kin – fool’s parsley and poison hemlock.
Once I admire a plant, I look for information about any practical or medicinal properties it has, and I found that the root of Queen Anne’s Lace can be made into teas, which are used as diuretics and as solutions to get rid of bodily parasites. For overindulgent tipplers, the tea can also be used to treat hangovers, and wild edible chefs use the roots of the plant to flavor soups.
Naturally, the plant bears a queen’s name. The legend ascribed to its name is that Queen Anne, queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland during the 18th century, was fond of doing lace handwork and challenged her ladies-in-waiting to a lace-making contest. However, while working with the lace, she pricked her finger, causing a drop of blood to fall into the snowy lace – thus, the purple floret in the center of the Queen Anne flower inspired the name. An English botanist, Geoffrey Grigson, refuted the legend and related that the name really derives from Saint Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary and patron saint of lace makers. Another story about the flower’s name is more credible – the white clusters simply reminded the British people of the Queen’s headdress.
By the way, the root of the flower is esculent – a new word for me that means edible. However, I prefer looking at the fields of white lace, rather than picking the plants to make soup!
An attempt at a haiku poem about Queen Anne’s Lace:

QUEEN ANNE’S LACE

This bold June sun melts.
Seeing snowflakes on long stems,
it senses winter’s breath!

Photograph by Victoria I. Sullivan


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