The first to show up is the famous trailing arbutus. For years I have walked by them, but, without a slow pace and an observant eye, I was oblivious to these amazing flowers. If it wasn’t for Sue Coakley, I would never have seen them. At a Zoom garden club meeting in very early May, Sue announced that the trailing arbutus were in bloom. I followed her instructions to “head south down the Troll Path, look on the slope on the left across from a big rock above the brook.” So I searched and just when I was about to give up, my treasure hunt was successful. Voila! Its Latin name Epigaea repens means to creep upon the earth. The Potawatomi believed that this special flower came directly from the hands of their divinity. It was given the name Mayflower by the pilgrims who survived their first brutal winter in the New World. This never-before-seen flower brought them hope. In 1918 it became the state flower of Massachusetts.
Another amazing ephemeral is the trout lily. It is so beautiful that it’s hard to believe it isn’t a cultured flower that botanists took years to perfect. But what about that crummy name? At the base of each plant are telltale leaves—speckled, elongated and looking like brown brook trout. I never noticed the leaves since I was enraptured with its delicate, yellow petals.
Trillium falls into this category too. I loved getting the word from GGC members that the trilliums were in bloom. These short, downward facing flowers were a challenge to photograph. I often hoped that no one was looking at the odd sight of a grown woman lying prone on the ground. I was afraid that someone might call an ambulance or the loony bin. My camera in hand was my proof of normality.
Another horribly named but truly lovely ephemeral is the blood root. It got its ugly name from the reddish colored sap that appears when it’s damaged. No name could be more the antithesis of these white angels.
The last one I want to tell you about is the pink lady’s slipper. I am lucky that three appear in my yard every Spring. They seem to pop up to their twelve inches over night, but pink lady’s slippers take many years to grow from seed to the mature plant. Happily, they can live for twenty years or more.
Despite some having lousy names, at least the word “ephemeral “ is wonderful and perfectly describes these fleeting gems of the earth.
Anne Langsdorf, Elise Kendall, Ellis Robinson, Janie Clark and Sue Coakley