“I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”
― Henry David Thoreau
I ought not to be writing this, because academic deadlines are looming. But I’m seeing many beautiful wildflowers coming into show. I feel compelled to make a note.
Imagine it is still early Spring. Picture a wood anemone in flower, if you will. And now a quivering constellation of them, and an overwhelming sense of wonder when gazing at these seemingly fragile starbursts just above the field layer of a temperate woodland. A light breeze blows in from a mild front and they sparkle in the morning dew. Ah, the glory.
“You are forsaken,” say the anemones, so penned the floriographers of the Language of Flowers. But how can I associate emotional abandonment with Anemone nemorosa? They light up my world every Spring. The Victorians must have this all wrong.
Fast forward to May. This is the time when the opportunity for pollination is done, flowers tarnish and petals shrivel to dust. The flowers are “going over,” as we say, euphemistically. Oh, the disappointment, the grief.
But I propose there’s nothing “over” about the incredible evolution of double fertilization in angiosperms (flowering plants). Why defuse this kind of beauty with a terminal phrase like “going over”? The essence of flower, surely, includes what happens next. It may not be so sensuous to the body, but it’s certainly a wonder to the mind. The process is nothing short of a miracle.
We photographers, artists and writers are culpable. Maybe it’s harder to convey this kind of radiance, the consciousness of life growing in the botanical ovary. Ah, the poetry of the dainty flower, the blousy show, the sexy colours and forms that attract us almost as much as the bees themselves! I’m unconvinced we are even any good at culturally admiring our own mode of pregnancy ~ there’s a lot of goo involved, for sure.
Wood anemones lie dormant for most of the year, spreading out slowly via rhizomes just under the surface of the humous at a rate of about 6 feet per century. I know one patch in North Herefordshire around 600 by 300 feet, so on loose calculation, these plants have been resident since the last ice-age.
Here’s the rub. Pollination fails, often, because the plant is an obligate outcrosser ~ explored not least by Charles Darwin himself, and defining the trait for pollination from spatially widespread populations in order to successfully produce genetically resilient seed. Woodland fragmentation in the UK means this process becomes less and less likely to succeed. The creeping rhizomes secure survival of the species instead. Seeds have almost been forsaken. So, it pains me to say, perhaps the Victorians were right all along.
(returns to study)