Friday, June 26, 2015


Tangle of Yellow Floating Heart leaves
at Lake Cheston, Sewanee, TN
I wish that I had a dollar for every walk I've been on that involved a hunt for plants. My friend, Victoria, a botanist who is world-renowned for her work with Eupatorium, a white flowered weed that has no utilitarian value in the human world (that I know of), often asks me to accompany her on ventures into places that are close to nature's heart and, sometimes, places that bear the signage: "Posted, No Trespassing."

Yesterday, the plant hunt centered around bodies of water near Sewanee, Tennessee that are called lakes. I use the word "called" because to me, the ones I saw were more like ponds. I understand that there is a lot of uncertainty about what should properly be called a lake, and some simply define them as larger versions of ponds, or as bodies of water that are at least five acres or more in area; while others define them as twelve to twenty acres in area. I've read that in the state of Wisconsin almost every pond is called a lake; whereas in Newfoundland, every lake is called a pond.

Whatever the ecologists say about the appropriate definitions of lakes and ponds, we walked the perimeter of Lake Cheston on Wiggons Creek yesterday, and I think that we must have covered close to two miles, sometimes walking over rough terrain where matted tree roots made the going difficult for an aging tenderfoot like me.

We were trying to collect a water plant called the Yellow Floating Heart (Nymphoides peltata), a yellow-flowered species of plant that somehow got here from its native Eurasian habitat, was established in Quebec, and now occurs from New England southwest to Texas. We could not get close enough to the water to pluck a specimen so we stood on a bridge, attempting to "catch" a specimen with a long stick we had found on the trail. The floating heart-shaped leaves, with long petioles, grow so thickly that they form a network almost impossible to disturb with a stick. After numerous attempts, the botanist said, "I'm going in," and I shuddered because the ground around the lake's edge looked mushy enough to absorb a human up to the knees.

As this particular botanist has been touted as someone who walks on water, often wading in marshes around south Louisiana to demonstrate to students how a plant can be captured in boggy areas, I was surprised when she turned back and decided that the Yellow Floating Heart wasn't worth the effort.

Beached Yellow Floating Heart
We continued to walk the perimeter and as we neared the beach area, I spied more of this water lily-like plant. However, again, we were too far from the plant, and, again, the botanist gave up the catch, sighing heavily. As we turned to climb the hill where the car was parked, I looked down at the grass just beyond the lake's edge and at my feet lay a perfect specimen of the plant, its yellow face smiling up at me. "Eureka!" I said.  "A floating heart. It followed us." I felt like I had found a Swamp Candle in a south Louisiana swamp or a wildflower in the crack of a city sidewalk!

Readers may think that such finds are not so momentous, but I am proud to write that I've finally attained the title of "Amateur Botanist," with a specialization in the field of Yellow Floating Hearts.

Photographs by Victoria I. Sullivan

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