Season of Singing

In another life, I would have been a botanist. In this life, I am merely a fan of wildflowers. The unfamiliar lexicon of botany makes plant descriptions read like a cross between a scientific journal and a tantalizing novel.

I have learned to identify dozens of wildflowers, primarily found on hiking/biking trails. I also find wildflowers in roadside ditches, in vacant lots, and even in my own back yard. Because I am always seeking, I notice any little speck of color or interesting leaves that don’t seem to catch the eye of other people.

As a kid, I learned that thistles had to be controlled on farmland because they were invasive. Now I know that many weeds are labeled noxious – any invasive, non-native plant that threatens crops, wildlife habitats, or other local ecosystems.

This month, I have been squeezing through the barbed wire fence separating my yard from a pasture to dig up noxious weeds so they don’t spread to our yard. Until last year, the pasture behind us was owned by an old rancher who leased the land for cattle grazing. He sold forty acres to the local school district, which has no immediate plans to build on it.

Common mullein and houndstongue are two examples of invasive plants that grow in the pasture. According to the Wisconsin Horticulture description of mullein, “Individual plants produce 200-300 seed capsules, each containing 500-800 seeds, so that 100,000‑240,000 seeds are produced per plant.” Houndstongue does not produce as many seeds as mullein (only 2,000 seeds per plant) but it is toxic to livestock and wildlife.

A couple of weeks ago while digging up houndstongue, I saw a plant with hairy leaves that I recognized from my days searching for wildflowers in Colorado. I tried unsuccessfully to identify it with a plant app so I turned to my own photo collection. I remember struggling to identify the plant when I first saw it. Someone said it was spearshaped phacelia, a member of the Boraginaceae family. It is actually Western Marbleseed, another member of the borage family, described in detail on the IllinoisWildflowers website:

Each flower has a white corolla that is ½–¾” long, a hairy green calyx with 5 slender lobes, 5 inserted stamens, and a pistil with a strongly exerted white style. The corolla is cylindrical-angular in shape, becoming slightly and gradually wider toward its tip. At the tip of the corolla, there are 5 triangular lobes that extend outward and inward, effectively closing off the opening of the corolla, except for the exerted style. These lobes are often tinted green or yellow. The outer sides of the corolla are densely canescent, except where its lobes occur; the latter are hairy throughout. The lobes of the calyx are linear-lanceolate to linear-oblong in shape. Including its lobes, the calyx is about two-thirds as long as the corolla. The pedicels of the flowers are up to ¼” long (rarely longer); they are whitish green, terete, appressed-pubescent, and covered with appressed to slightly spreading hairs. At the bases of these pedicels, there are solitary bracts up to 1″ long that resemble the leaves….

Corollas and calyxes and pistils, oh my!

I also saw something purple peeking through the tall grass and weeds. This time, the plant app correctly identified the flower as spiderwort. When the flowers opened the following week, I confirmed this ID. What a shame that this beautiful flower is hidden in the weeds. And how delightful that beauty can be found by those who actively seek it!

Why am I so enamored with wildflowers? The beauties catch my eye but it’s more than beauty that attracts me. It’s their uniqueness and diversity. It’s their resilience, the ability to thrive in less than desirable conditions. Flowers are evidence of God’s creativity.

The fields declare the glory of God; the flowers proclaim the work of his hands.

Flowers appear on the earth;
    the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
    is heard in our land.

Song of Songs, 2:12

The Garden

I imagine her at the flowerbed planting her perennial garden – peonies of white, pink and burgundy along the back. Next to these beauties, bearded iris, and in front, a vibrant orange poppy, a Shasta daisy and hot pink beebalm. And in the corner, several lily plants. Now what to fill in the empty space between? She chose a lovely spreading plant with leaves of white and green with lacy, delicate blooms. On both sides of the perennial garden, she – the lady who lived here before me – planted wildflowers – delphiniums, prairie coneflowers, catnip, and Chinese forget-me-nots.

Now the garden is mine to tend. The first spring came. I was delighted when the peonies, poppies, and irises bloomed! Oh, if these spring beauties would only last longer! The green and white plant filled in all the spaces and made the little flower garden complete. It soon crept under the border into the adjacent wildflower bed. I had to know its name: Goutweed! What a nasty name for a lovely plant! A deer munched on its leaves and made a bed in them.

The daisies and bee balm bloomed in July. The lilies never bloomed. I blamed the deer.

Now in my second year up north, I know to expect the peonies and irises to bloom in June, just before Father’s Day. This year, the poppy plant didn’t bloom and there were only a few iris blooms. I noticed a plant growing in the middle of the wildflower garden and looked it up with a plant app. Goutweed, it said, though the leaves were solid green, not the green and white I’ve come to know.

The lilies didn’t bloom so I moved them.. The bee balm plant also didn’t bloom. I couldn’t even find it in the mess of goutweed leaves.

The nice garden space filler had become an out of control weed. I told my husband how it was spreading and he said, “I’m going to spray weed killer on it.” “What about the deer,” I asked. “And the ground squirrel that’s been hiding under the peonies?” I knew that killing the leaves wouldn’t do anything to the roots. I had to dig them up. This is my garden to tend.

I hand-pulled the leaves from the goutweed, then dug up the rhizomes. The goutweed was growing between the irises so I dug the irises up too and saw that the rhizomes were intertwined.

To rid the garden of goutweed for good, I will have to be persistent about pulling up new growth and may have to cover up the flowerbed with plastic next spring to keep the plants from photosynthesizing.

While I was digging up the roots last week, a hot and sweaty task, I thought about how invasive they were. It only takes a small amount to take over a flowerbed. It only takes a small amount to crowd out the good plants.

I thought about my Father, the Gardener. This world is his garden to tend. He cuts off every branch that does not bear fruit and prunes those that do so they will be even more fruitful. I thought about how I must keep a sharp eye out for weeds in my own heart so that no one misses out on the grace of God because of me.

Work at getting along with each other and with God. Otherwise you’ll never get so much as a glimpse of God. Make sure no one gets left out of God’s generosity. Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time. Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite. You well know how Esau later regretted that impulsive act and wanted God’s blessing—but by then it was too late, tears or no tears.

Hebrews 12:14-17 (The Message)