Today we celebrate an American lyrical poet and playwright who wrote some beautiful poems about flowers.
We'll also learn about the Scottish surgeon who advised using sphagnum moss to treat wounded soldiers.
We hear inspiring words about Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis “YER-anth-iss hy-uh-MAY-lis”)
We Grow That Garden Library™ with a book about medicine - herbal medicine - an invaluable comprehensive reference.
And then we’ll wrap things up with the story of a favorite student of Carl Linnaeus known as “the Vulture.”
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February 22, 1892
Today is the birthday of the American lyrical poet and playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay.
Gardeners cherish Edna’s verses like:
April comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.
I would blossom if I were a rose.
I will be the gladdest thing under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers and not pick one.
However, Edna threw some shade at the very poisonous and rank-smelling Jimsonweed plant, the Thorn-apple, or Datura stramonium (“duh-too-ruh stra-MO-nee-um") in her poem “In the Grave No Flowers," writing:
Here the rank-smelling
Would plant this by his dwelling?
Well, it turns out the American botanist and geneticist Albert Francis Blakeslee was especially fond of Datura.
In fact, one of Albert’s friends once joked that in his life, Albert enjoyed two great love affairs — with his wife Margaret and with Datura, and in that order.
Not surprisingly, Edna’s verse riled Albert, and in response, he sent her a letter:
"I thought I would write to you, and … answer... your question by saying that I would plant this by my dwelling and have done so for the last thirty years rather extensively. It turns out that this plant (Datura stramonium) is perhaps the very best plant with which to discover principles of heredity."
Now, Datura's common name, Jimsonweed, is derived from Jamestown’s colonial settlement, where British soldiers were given a salad made with boiled “Jamestown weed” or Jimsonweed. For days after eating the greens, instead of quelling the colonial uprising known as the Bacon rebellion, the British soldiers turned fools, blowing feathers in the air, running about naked, and acting entirely out of their minds.
Datura’s other common names, the thorn apple or the devil’s apple, offer a clue that Datura is a nightshade plant. Those sinister names came about because nightshades were historically thought to be evil.
In contrast, the Algonquin Indians and other ancient peoples regarded Datura as a shamanistic plant, and they smoked Datura to induce intoxication and hallucinations or visions.
The etymology of the name Datura comes from an early Sanskrit word meaning “divine inebriation.”
February 22, 1932
Today is the anniversary of the death of the Scottish surgeon Charles Walker Cathcart.
During WWI, Charles and his peer Isaac Balfour wrote a paper where they advised following the common German practice of using sphagnum moss to treat wounded soldiers. After this article, sphagnum moss was robustly harvested for wound dressings for the British Army.
An article published by the Smithsonian Magazine called “How Humble Moss Healed the Wounds of Thousands in World War I” shared the history of the use of moss:
“In ancient times, Gaelic-Irish sources wrote that warriors in the battle of Clontarf used moss to pack their wounds. Moss was also used by Native Americans, who lined their children’s cradles and [used] it as a type of natural diaper. It continued to be used sporadically when battles erupted, including during the Napoleonic and Franco-Prussian wars.
Lieutenant-Colonel E.P. Sewell of the General Hospital in Alexandria, Egypt, wrote approvingly that, “It is very absorbent, far more than cotton wool, and has remarkable deodorizing power.” Lab experiments around the same time vindicated his observations: Sphagnum moss can hold up to 22 times its own weight in liquid, making it twice as absorbent as cotton.”
In response to Charles’ advice, communities organized moss drives. A December 19, 1916 article from the Caspar Star-Tribune out of Caspar Wyoming was simply titled: Gather Moss For War Bandages. It read,
“Thousands of women and children, unable to perform other war works, are daily combing the misty hills of Scotland and the Irish west coast for moss for absorbent dressings. Recently they filled an order for 20,000 bandages. The moss is wrapped in cotton gauze and applied to open wounds.”
When the six-year-old Dorothy L. Sayers moved to her new home at Bluntisham rectory in the Fens in January 1897:
As the fly turned into the drive, she cried out with astonishment,
“Look, Auntie, look! The ground is all yellow, like the sun.”
This sudden splash of gold remained in her memory all her life. The ground was carpeted with early flowering aconites. Later, her father told her the legend that these flowers grew in England only where Roman soldiers have shed their blood, and Bluntisham contained the outworks of a Roman camp. So as early as this, and as young as she was, her imagination was caught by ancient Rome.
— Roy Vickery, author and Curator of Flowering Plants at the London Natural History Museum, A Dictionary of Plant Lore, Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis “YER-anth-iss hy-uh-MAY-lis”)
Grow That Garden Library
This book came out in 2016, and the subtitle is 550 Herbs and Remedies for Common Ailments.
In this book, you really get one of the remarkable reference books of herbal remedies. The format is exact, and the information is reliable. If your looking to learn about the herbs that can help promote health and well-being, you have found a terrific resource.
The instructions in this large volume are straightforward to follow, and you will be able to cultivate your own garden apothecary custom-tailored to your own health.
In addition, this herbal encyclopedia is easy to use and allows you to look up information either with plant names or by ailments.
This book is 336 pages of a detailed herbal reference with proven natural remedies and advice for growing herbs that will be the most helpful to you in your garden this season.
Today’s Botanic Spark
Reviving the little botanic spark in your heart
February 22, 1756
Today is the anniversary of the death of the handsome and tall Swedish botanist - and a favorite student of Carl Linnaeus known as “the Vulture” - Pehr Loefling.
Pehr met Carl at the University of Uppsala, where Carl was his professor. Early on, Carl dubbed Pehr his "most beloved pupil," and he even gave Pehr a nickname; the Vulture. Carl came up with the moniker after observing that Pehr had an intuitive way of finding plants and observing the most minute details of plant specimens.
When Pehr wrote his dissertation called “On the Buds of Trees,” his observation skills were put to use. Pehr's paper featured detailed descriptions of plants in bud in the offseason instead of in full flower during the summer. This unique perspective enabled people to identify many species in the leafless winter - something that easily confounds plant lovers - even today.
When Carl felt Pehr could be a role model, tutor, and a friend to his son, he offered Pehr the chance to live with his family. Hence, Pehr continued his studies while living with the Linneaus family.
After graduating, Carl recommended Pehr for an opportunity in Madrid, and this is how Pehr learned Spanish and befriended many Spanish botanists who called him Pedro.
After two years of collecting over 1,400 specimens in Spain, Pehr secured a paid position on the Royal Botanical Expedition to South America with a mission of learning to cultivate a particular variety of cinnamon thought to be superior to the standard variety. By 1754, Pehr was botanizing in Venezuela with a small team that included two doctors and two artists. Pehr was just 27 years old when he died of malaria on the banks of the Caroní River at a Mission outpost on this day in 1756. He was buried beneath an orange tree.
By the end of the year, over half of the expedition’s men would be dead from disease compounded by hunger and fatigue.
When Linnaeus shared the news about Pehr with a friend, he wrote,
“The great Vulture is dead.”
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