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Archive for the ‘Flora’ Category

Mayflowers c. 1840 by Maria Morris Miller

April showers bring mayflowers.  Sometimes in May… sometimes in April.

It’s raining today which is good news for all things green and growing.  Mayflowers  (aka trailing arbutus ~ Epigaea repens) are among the earliest native blooms to appear in Nova Scotia.  Half-hidden on the edge of the woods, their leathery leaves may look ragged and browned in spots, but the flowers are nonetheless fresh and pristine.  Their petals fade from light pink to white as spring progresses.

Mayflowers enjoy the moist, acidic environments that are typically found near bogs.   They are also shy plants, with a preference for shade. 

Over a century ago mayflowers were designated the floral emblem of Nova Scotia.  Found throughout most of eastern North America, this native evergreen plant is now considered an endangered species in Florida and vulnerable in New York. 

Unbeknownst to many gardeners who unsuccessfully try to transplant them, the roots of mayflowers have a secret relationship with fungus.  In this mutually beneficial liaison (also known as a mycorrhizal association), fungi gain direct access to carbohydrates through the roots of the mayflower.  At the same time, the fungus  makes the mayflower more resistant to disease and drought. 

In the language of flowers, mayflowers mean welcome.  Welcome to Nova Scotia.  Welcome to spring.

The image of mayflowers at top left was scanned from a postcard I purchased at the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History over two decades ago.  I photographed the mayflowers just a short walk from the bottom of Flandrum Hill Road last week.

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A sunflowers blooms in a bed of dried eelgrass in the salt marsh.

September’s flowers reveal varying hues of yellow in the marsh, along the roadside and in the garden.  Some, like the Sunflowers, are bright and bold, while others like the Sea Radish are pale and barely there.

Traditionally it is women who are considered best at discerning subtle differences between colors.  Often attributed to women’s historic role as fruit and nut gatherers, it’s no surprise that the ability to select safe and ripe foods is so closely tied to the skill of correctly choosing and remembering colors. 

Yet, it was two males, the colorist Josef Albers and the painter Vincent Van Gogh, who made the greatest strides in harnessing the wonders of yellow in art.

I was for years in the yellow period, you know.
~ Josef Albers

Above, a sampling of yellows  found in just six species of wildflowers reveals a marvelous variety.  September’s warm light gives them a cheerful disposition despite the approaching cold. 

The names of some flowers are inspired by their colors as in the Butter and Eggs shown above.

Like human beings, colors are influenced by others in their immediate surrounding.  They possess the magical ability to transform one another into even more wondrous versions of themselves.  How striking the Black-eyed Susan appears above against a backdrop of white spruce! 

There is no blue without yellow and without orange.
~ Vincent Van Gogh

Despite advances in digital imaging, colors seen by the naked eye in natural light still cannot be replicated truly by technology.  When I was an art student, one of my painting professors told me she could tell that I had used a photograph of a sunset as the subject for a painting because she could see that I had made use of a more limited palette.  Had I made the painting looking at a real sunset, I would likely have chosen a greater variety of yellows and oranges than those  made available at the time by Kodak.

There is no substitute for seeing late summer’s yellow blooms in person.  The time to drink up your fill of them is now, while the warm September light is still able to show them at their best.

I really just want to be warm yellow light that pours over everyone I love.
~ Conor Oberst

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Take a few minutes from your summer and make a mandala from natural materials.   Mandalas are an excellent exercise to help you focus on the moment at hand.  You may create something beautiful in the process but don’t worry about perfection.  

Depending on your intention while creating your mandala, you may construct  a sacred space in which to bring your thoughts and prayers.

Summer offers a variety of materials:  leaves, flowers, twigs and grasses.  Your palette of living colors will depend on what’s in bloom in your corner of the world right now.  Found feathers, seashells and stones may also be used.  The possibilities are endless.

You can create one by yourself, with a friend or with a child. 

Create a circular shape with your materials.  You can plan to have a set number of sections in your design or just see what happens. 

You can make your mandalas outdoors or inside.  It doesn’t matter if you keep your arrangement forever, for a day, or just a few minutes.  Mandalas are about here and now.

For more information about mandalas, see my previous post on Autumn Mandalas.

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Warnings are posted along the Salt Marsh Trail to remind people to stay away from the poison ivy.  This plant causes extreme itching on contact with the skin of both humans and animals.  Swellings, bumps and blisters may follow.

Poison ivy plants are characterized by green leaves arranged in groups of three.  They look fairly harmless and are either found by themselves in a large mass or hidden among other plants.   Along the Salt Marsh Trail, they are right at the edge of the path in some places, making it very easy for an unsuspecting child or dog to brush up against.

This year’s especially wonderful growing season has enabled most plants to grow earlier in the season and larger than usual.  Poison ivy is no exception.  Please exercise caution along the trail and in the woods as you enjoy the outdoors this summer. 

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It’s not easy keeping cool when the heat and humidity conspire to drain you of your energy and motivation.

Snowshoe hares know how to make the most of the dog days of summer by relaxing in the clover. They’re not running and hopping around as much as they did earlier this summer. 

My yard is a haven for them as I don’t have a dog.  Hares know how to stay cool by winding down activities and keeping a low profile.

In ancient times, the dog star Sirius was considered responsible for the sweltering heat.  Back then, its coincidental rising with the sun in July and August was thought to bring on the worst in men and beasts.

But there are many ways to tame the beast within during these ravaging hot days…

Taking a moment to pause and smell the roses is always a good way to refresh yourself through scent and beauty.  The wild rose bush is in bloom in my yard.  With its single layer of petals, it resembles the Dog rose (Rosa canina) often used in heraldry.

Even if you don’t have roses nearby, so many other beautiful flowers are in bloom at this time of year, both in gardens and in the wild.

Certainly one of the best ways to beat the heat is to take a stroll along the seashore.  Morning and evening walks are especially refreshing. 

Collecting seashells along the shore is a quiet activity sure to take the focus off the concerns of the day.  

Over the years I’ve collected a variety of Dogwinkles (Nucella lapilus) both at Rainbow Haven and Silver Sands beaches.  Worn smooth by the waves and bleached pale by the sun, they even feel like summer as you roll them between your fingers.

Of course the best way to be refreshed during the dog days of summer is to take a plunge in the water, be it a stream, lake or the sea.  Nature beckons.

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There’s something comforting about seeing small and simple plants grow down the middle of my driveway.  I get the same feeling when I see grass growing through cracks in the sidewalk.   To me, these are testament to the power of small things and reminders of man’s inability to conquer the natural world. 

Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.
~ Hal Borland

Due to its simple form and presence at our feet, it’s all too easy to dismiss the power of grass.  Yet, its strength is in its numbers and its ability to persist despite being trampled on over and over again.  Below, the shadow of a fox trail appears in the grass behind Rainbow Haven beach.

Grass changes with the seasons and makes no futile attempt to hold strong against the wind.  It knows its limitations.  In the winter, it hunkers down under the snow and quietly waits for spring.  When sunshine and rain permit, grass seizes the opportunity to grow to great heights in just a short amount of time, confounding those tasked with mowing it down.

It’s most beautiful when at last it goes to seed. In the early morning light, the grass in the photos below looks like a magical mist rising in the forest.

Growth begins when we begin to accept our own weakness.
~ Jean Vanier

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