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The Whitehurst Diaries: Delight in wildflowers from Grampa Mac

By Sharon Whitehurst

PELLYTON, ADAIR CO., KY (Sun 7 Sep 2016) Early morning finds the wildflowers along our lane at their freshest and most appealing, before the heat of the day causes the big-root morning glory [Ipomoea pandurata] to crumple into limp folds of spent petals. Many of the wildflowers are old familiars: goldenrod, the dusty harbinger of early autumn in New England; Joe Pye weed, boneset and ironweed which edged the strip of marshy ground in Grampa Mac's west pasture even as they line the fence-rows of our Pellyton acres.

My delight in wildflowers is a direct legacy from Grampa Mac who often paused while walking the short stretch of dirt road between my parents' small house and the farm to cut a rough bouquet with his Barlow knife, binding the whole together with a long stem of timothy. When one of my own earlier efforts included a stem or two of wild chicory, Grampa removed these with the caution that it was a weed he hated to see invading his hay meadow.

Long before leaving Vermont for the move to Wyoming in 1998 I had learned at least the common names of area wildflowers and where to find them in season: the Dutchman's breeches and painted trillium which grew at the shaded bend of Knox Hill Road in late April, the delicate hepatica rising from a cover of winter-sodden maple and beech leaves on the slope beyond the dilapidated sugar house; the autumnal sprawl of purple New England asters leaning over the verge of every back road, tangling with their cousins the small, pale lavender frost asters.

During my first summer in Wyoming I purchased a guide specializing in the flowers of the interior west--plants which rush into bloom as the late snows recede slowly from mountain pastures in June. In the short high altitude summers wildflowers stage a brave show, starting with frail pasqueflowers and short-stemmed violets which flourish briefly on sagebrush covered high plains, followed by brilliant balsam root flowing in a yellow tide down a high-meadow slope. In the final frost-free weeks of summer blue lupine and scarlet Indian paintbrush border the roads that climb through the Tetons and the Wind River Mountains.

Relocation to Kentucky has added new species of wildflowers to enjoy and identify. Often I return from a roadside ramble or a trek through our pasture to the creek with photos that are inconclusive when compared to those in my Audubon guide to eastern wildflowers. Other times I have guessed correctly the broader classification but struggle over the botanical terminology meant to differentiate the placement of leaves on a stem. I may miss the finer points which should help me discern whether I have collected a 'greater' or 'lesser' variety.

I find joy in each clump of orange butterfly weed, the billowing swaths of tickseed coreopsis. I pull on my boots to squelch into the woods beyond the stable when wild blue phlox sways beside the rain-fueled freshets of April, cherish the dried cups of Queen Anne's lace standing stiffly above the frosted grass of late November.

Jim grumbles over the tangles of bindweed and giant morning glory which, along with the ubiquitous honeysuckle, threaten to engulf the fences bordering the lane. While he roars off with the bush-hog rumbling behind the tractor, intent on keeping us tidy, I stroll with my camera, our faithful Willis marching behind. I try to capture the fuzzy lavender- blue ageratum, totter up the steep bank behind the retaining wall hoping for a clearer shot of the recently identified spiked lobelia. I prowled through internet photos wanting to confirm my identification of the partridge pea plants that lurk at the edge of the goat pasture.

Where ever we have traveled, in each of the diverse places we have called home, I draw upon the qualities of appreciative observation so subtly instilled by Grampa Mac's example. I remember his small bouquets--red clover, yellow or white melilot, an incongruous stem of bluebell, wide-eyed daisies, centered around a single bloom of the old-fashioned cinnamon roses which tangled along the path to the hen house, thorny stem carefully scraped free of prickles before being tucked into the sweet-scented handful.

Age will limit the woodland trails I can hike; I am not likely to conquer the complexities of my camera or commit to memory the Latin names of the plants I bring in from my meanderings. I hope I will never grow too diminished to enjoy the abundance of natural treasures that flourish in the seasons of country living.

- Sharon Whitehurst

This story was posted on 2016-09-11 05:04:25
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Sharon Whitehurst: Big Root Morning Glory

2016-09-11 - Pellyton, Adair County, KY - Photo by Sharon Whitehurst.
Common names I've found for this are big root morning glory: wild sweet potato, man of the earth. - Sharon Whitehurst

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