Marianne Moore: Poetry


Flowers, trees, and other vegetation permeate Moore’s verse. Below is an ongoing list of living plant life in Marianne’s Garden. Some of  the images can be enlarged with a click. Botanical and other corrections and additions welcome. Most of the text comes from books from the golden age of amateur nature writing, late 19th century into the early 20th. Probably Moore met some of those texts, although her training at Bryn Mawr might have connected with the up-to-date science writing of her time. Please check back: more to come.


“No doubt they had seen other trees–lindens,

maples and sycamores . . . .”

“The Camperdown Elm,” New Yorker 43 (September 23, 1967): 48.

Linden Tree, Prospect Park, Brooklyn

Tilia americana

Tilia americana L.

American basswood, American linden, Lime tree, Bee tree

Tiliaceae (Linden Family)

American basswood is a stately, wide-spreading tree, 60-80 ft. tall, occasionally growing taller. Conical in its younger form, the crown becomes rounded with age. Broadly oval leaves sometimes change to yellow in fall but often turn brown and become somewhat unsightly. This deciduous tree tends to sprout at the base, producing a clump of tall trees around what was the original tree. Flowers are inconspicuous but fragrant. Large tree with long trunk and a dense crown of many small, often drooping branches and large leaves; frequently has two or more trunks, and sprouts in a circle from a stump.

American Basswood, the northernmost basswood species, is a handsome shade and street tree. When flowering, the trees are full of bees, hence the name Bee-tree; this species is favored by bees over others and produces a strongly flavored honey. The soft, light wood is especially useful for making food boxes, yardsticks, furniture, and pulpwood. Indians made ropes and woven mats from the tough fibrous inner bark.

–Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, University of Texas at Austin


“And there were gardens for these —

combining planes, dates,
limes, and pomegranates,
in avenues. . . .”

“The Jerboa,” Hound & Horn, VI (October-Decdember 1923), 108-113, ll. 30-33.

The LIME TREE (Tilia europaea, L.), is a beautiful leafy tree with wing-like bracts, much prized for ornament, and suitable for avenues. It is much planted along streets and promenades, affording a pleasant shade during summer; the blossoms are fragrant, and yield most delicate honey. The lime is generally propagated by layers. Its wood, which is very light and soft, is used by saddlers, shoemakers, glovers, and toy-makers; and for carving and modelling purposes, it is superior to all other British trees. Several American lime trees have been introduced, and appeal well deserving of a place in our arboricultural collections.

Encyclopedia Britannica, Ninth Edition, Vol. 2, Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, 1875, p. 318.

Lily Pad

“hard to discern among the birch trees, ferns, and lily pads,

avalanche lilies, Indian paintbrushes,

bear’s ears and kittentails . . . .”

“An Octopus,” The Dial, 77 (December 1924) 475-81, l. 121

Water Lily Family. Nymphaeaceae.

Indian Pond Lily, Spatter-dock. Nymphaea polysepala (Nuphar). Yellow, Summer, Cal., Oreg., Wash., Col., Wyo.

A small family, widely distributed in fresh-water lakes and streams; aquatic perennial herbs with think, horizontal rootstocks, or with tubers, large, floating, or erect leaves, and large, solitary flowers with long flower-stalks; sepals three to twelve, petals three to many, stamens six to numerous; ovary superior, stigmas distinct or united into a disk. We have no white water lilies in the West.

Like the eastern spatter-dock, this is a this is a course, but rather handsome and decorative plant. The leathery leaves are shaped like a rounded heart and sometimes a foot long. The cup-shaped calyx, two to four inches across, is the conspicuous part of the flower, consisting of seven to twelve, thickish sepals, yellow and petal-like, the outer greenish. There are twelve to eighteen petals, half an inch long resembling stamens. The real stamens have dark-red anthers, but yellow pollen, and both petals and stamens are densely crowded around the ovary. The round fruit has a narrow neck, concave top, and many seeds. In quiet mountain ponds we find these yellow flowers, n stout stems standing up out of the water, the lily-pads floating idly in its surface. Indians grind the seeds into meal for porridge, or else roast them and eat them like popcorn.

–Margaret Armstrong, in collaboration with J. J. Thornbur, A.M., Field Book of Western Wild Flowers, New York and London: C. P. Putnam’s Sons, The Knickerbocker Press, 1915, pp. 156-57.

Avalanche Lily

“hard to discern among the birch trees, ferns, and lily pads,

avalanche lilies, Indian paintbrushes,

bear’s ears and kittentails . . . .”

“An Octopus,” The Dial, 77 (December 1924) 475-81, l. 121

Avalanche Lily

Avalanche Lily or Dog-tooth Violet; Erythrdnium montinum. Color: white; blooms: Summer in Northwest USA

“An exquisite kind, peculiarly graceful in form, with from one to nine, pure white flowers, nearly three

Orange markings at base

Orange markings at base

inches across, each petal prettily ornamented at the base with some orange-colored markings, arranged in a symmetrical scalloped pattern. The anthers are orange-yellow, the pistil white, the buds are pinkish and the leaves are very bright green and not mottled. This is very common around Mt. Rainier.”

–from Margaret Armstrong and John James Thornber, Field Book of Western Flowers, New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1915, pp. 27-28.


“striped grass, lichens, sunflowers, asters, daisies–“

“The Steeple-Jack,” Poetry 40,3 (June 1932), p.120, l. 32

Lichen 1

Various Lichen

The Lichens are called in the botanical world, a collateral class; alga: and fungi living together in a state of symbiosis, or mutual benefit, like the hermit-crab and the sea-anemone, unlike, the mistletoe and the maple.

Though the history of Lichenology began with Theophrastus, three hundred years before Christ, yet it was not until 1868 that Schwendener discovered their true origin. . . . Linnaeus called them, “rustici pauperrimi,” or “the poor trash of vegetation.”

The economic value of this group of plants has been and is still, extensive. The casual reader no doubt remembers accounts of starving explorers using Lichens for food. We have knowledge that the prehistoric cave-dwellers used them for sustenance. The manna that Fed the Israelites in the desert is now thought to have been the so-called “earthbread” of the Tartars (Leeanora), which was blown down into the valleys from the mountains of northern Africa. Iceland “moss” (Cetraria) has long been a source of food in Iceland, Norway and Sweden, and “rock-tripe” (Umhiliaria) was used by the Franklin Arctic explorers. The reindeer “moss” (Cladonia) has been described as the food or the reindeer. Many Lichens yield various dyes and poisons. One only, to-day, is used medicinally, though in superstitious times past, others were used, which, like the dog-lichen (Peltigera) , supposed to be a cure for hydrophobia, were more or less fictitious. _

LIchen 2

British Soldier Lichen

The Lichens are divided into three types, crustose (crusty), foliose (leafy), and fruticose (branching), named in order of their specialization, the three terms referring, as they suggest, to their form. The presence of a thallus or, as one might call it, a basal portion, distinguishes them morphologically from the true fungi of which they are a branch. Lichens of the crustose kind are inconspicuous, minute, and the least interesting to the unscientific nature lover. There is but one species that readily attracts an observer, Beomyces roseus, the Rosy Lichen. On bare stretches of rocky ground after rain, one notices a rose tint, which when investigated, is found to be caused by a carpet of this Lichen. The “earth bread” or manna already referred to, is of this type, and other representatives that are likely to attract attention are members of the genera Graphis, Pertusaria, Placodium, and Verrucaria.

Species of the foliose type are among the most conspicuous and appear to the uninitiated distinctly as Lichens. In fact, by the laity, crustose forms would be called fungi, while fruticose are commonly termed mosses. The Parmelias which everywhere cover trees and rocks, and the Umbilicarias conspicuous rock types, as well as Physcias, Stictas, and Peltigeras, some Cetrarias and Thelosechistes, are all Lichens in the common sense.

Lichen 3 Lettuce Lichen

Lettuce Lichen

The members of the fruticose group suggest mosses, as has been stated, leading the poet to speak of Cladinia rangiferina as “the wiry moss that whitens all the hill,” though the common Cladonia christatella has been called “Coral Fungus” from its bright red apothecia. Besides the Caladonias, the genus Usnea belongs to this group, and the beard-“moss”  is rarely thought of as a Lichen, as Longfellow proves when he sings “bearded with moss, and in garments green.” The genera, Ramalina, Evernia, Alectoria, are typical and conspicuous races. While the yellow members ot_ the genus Theloschistes have both foliose and fruticose examples, but when completely covering the bole of an elm, appear inconspicuously crustose.

The present work, which is to be published in parts, is intended to stimulate the study of the Lichens, in which lies an abundant and ever present source of pleasure; and to be an aid to this study, as the authors Found little in their recent beginnings.

–“Introduction,” Reginald Heber Howe, Jr., and Marion Appleton Howe, Common and Conspicuous Lichens of New England: A Fieldbook for Beginners (Boston: W. B. Clarke and Co., 1906), pp. 6-9.


“under the polite needles of the larches

‘hung to filter, not to intercept the sunlight—‘”

“An Octopus”

The Dial 74 (September 1924) 475-81

“Vertical precipices form the side [of Little Beehive] towards Lake Louise, but  there is a flat top of several acres extent covered with a most beautiful growth of the scraggly Lyall’s larch, whose feathery needles merely filter but do not interrupt the streaming sunlight.” (p 38)

“The most interesting and by far the most beautiful conifer is Lyall’s larch (Larix lyalli). It resembles the eastern tamarack, but is restricted to the summit ranges of the Rockies, and its southern limits, probably in Montana, have not yet been determined.”  (p 63) “Lyall’s larch is very beautiful, having a rough, grey bark, irregular and heavy branches, and a foliage of soft needles arranged in tufts like green brushes. . . .  Its growth must be extremely slow, as I have counted thirty rings in a branch only three-fourths of an inch in diameter. The wood is hard and brittle, and after a heavy snowfall the branches often strew the ground in a painful ruin.  Thus the tree has an irregular, gnarled appearance as a result of its ceaseless battle with snowstorms and gales. Probably no other tree in the world endures such stress of weather.” (p 64)

–Walter Dwight Wilcox. The Rockies of Canada. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1900.


“bears ears and kittentails”

“An Octopus,” The Dial, December, 1924, 475-81

Synthyris pinnatifida

 “[Besides the speedwells] the high mountains of the Olympic Peninsula are home to a much more attractive and somewhat similar species, cut-leaf syntheris (Synthyris pinnatifida ). Like the speedwells, its flowers are somewhat bilaterally symmetrical and have four blue, partly fused petals, for sepals, two stamens, and a heart-shaped capsule.The cut-leaf synthyris leaves, however, are pinnately divided, fernlike, and all basal, not at all like those of the speedwells. Also, ‘wool’ covers the stems.”

–from Ronald J. Taylor and George Wayne Douglas,  Mountain Plants of the Pacific Northwest: A Field Guide to Washington, Western British Columbia, and Southeastern Alaska Mountain Press Publishing, 1995, p. 158. Photograph by Cheryl Beyer


“the dew-drenched juniper / beside the window-ledge”

“Virginia Britannica,” Life and Letters Today, 13 (December 1935), 66070. l. 129

Juniperus communis

A low tree or erect shrub, sometimes attaining a height of 300 and a trunk diameter of 12′, usually smaller, the branches spreading or drooping, the bark shreddy. Leaves all subulate, rigid, spreading, or some of the lower reflexed, mostly straight, prickly pointed, verticillate in 3’s, often with smaller ones fascicled in their axils, 5″-io” long, less than 1″ wide, channeled and commonly whitened on the upper surface; aments axillary; berry-like cones sessile or very nearly so, dark blue, 3″-4″ in diameter.

On dry hills. Massachusetts to Alaska, south to New Jersey. North Carolina, Michigan, western Nebraska and in the Rocky Mountains to New Mexico. Ascends to 900 ft. in Pennsylvania. Also in Europe and Asia. The fruit, called Melmot berries, is used for flavoring gin. Called also Horse Savin, Hackmatack, Aiten. April-May. Fruit ripe Oct.

Nathaniel Lord Britton, Addison Brown. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British possessions. . . . Volume 1. New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1913, p. 66.


“the jasmine two leafed-twig, and bud

“The Jerboa,” Hound & Horn 6 (October-December 1932) 108-113, l. 59

Jasmine Bud

Jasminum (jas’mi-num), n. [NL. (Linnaeus): see jasmine.] A genus of the natural order Oleacem, containing some 90 species of shrubby, often climbing, plants, indigenous in the warmer parts of the old world, especially in Asia, many of them cultivated. The corolla of the flowers has a cylindrical tube (which includes the two stamens), and a spreading limb, with usually four or five divisions. The leaves are pinnately compound, or reduced to a single leaflet. The white or yellow flowers are axillary or terminal. Well-known species are: J. officinale, the common white jasmine, thoroughly naturalized in southern Europe; J. grandifijorum, from India, variously called Malabar or Catalonlan or Spanish jasmine; and J. Sambac, the Arabian jasmine. The ordinary jasmine-oil is furnished mainly by the first two, which are extensively cultivated for the purpose in southern Europe; but the last yields a similar perfume. Many other species are prized for their elegance and fragrance.

The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia, Vol. IV, New York: The Century Company, 1897, p. 3220.


“the ivy-arbor shade”

“Virginia Britannia,” Life and Letters Today 13 (December, 1935), l. 71.

English Ivy, Hedrea helix

IVY, a common name, from the AngloSaxon, for species of the genus hedera (Celtic hedra, a cord) of the garaliacem, a family which is closely related to the umbelliferum, but different in the structure of its fruit, which has always more than two carpels. The genus hedera consists of evergreen climbing shrubs, with simple leaves and the flowers in umbels. Its most familiar representative is the common or English ivy, H. helix, a plant which contributes largely to the English landscape, and the main stems climb upon trees, buildings, and other supports to a great height, by means of aerial rootlets. The leaves are three- to fivelobed, and of a pleasing dark green color. The plant rarely flowers until it has reached the summit of the support upon which it climbs; it then throws out from the main stem short flowering branches, upon which the leaves are not lobed, like those upon the other stems, but nearly oval; each branch terminates in a sort of panicle of numerous small umbels of yellowish green flowers; these open in early autumn; they are fragrant, and very attractive to bees; the berries, which are black, ripen tho following spring. The ivy climbs to the tops of the tallest trees and surmounts the highest buildings; the largest specimens in England have trunks 10 to 11J in. in diameter; it is a very long-lived plant. Ivy formerly enjoyed some medicinal reputation, but it is scarcely used at present; tho berries, which to man are emetic and cathartic, are readily eaten by various birds; in warm climates it exudes an aromatic, resinous

Ivy, Oxford

matter, said to possess stimulant properties. In England the ivy naturally clothes ruins, old trees, and rocky places, and thus forms a prominent feature in the landscape; but besides this it is largely used in gardening, it being employed to cover buildings, to form evergreen walls, and to make screens to hide unsightly objects. In this country ivy cannot be considered as certainly hardy north of Philadelphia; in the sheltered streets of cities like New York it has sometimes attained a large size, to be destroyed by an unusually severe winter; it is not only the severity of the winters at its northern limit that makes it difficult of cultivation, but the direct rays of the sun in the latter part of winter have an injurious effect upon it; hence it succeeds best upon the northern sides of buildings. In Virginia the plant flourishes luxuriantly, and some tine specimens may be found growing upon the old mansions of that state.

–George Ripley, Charles Anderson Dana. The American Cyclopædia: A Popular Dictionary of General Knowledge, Volume 9.  New York: Appleton, 1879, pp. 476-77.

Fairy Iris

“small  / fairy iris suitable / for Dulcinea del / Toboso”

“In the Public Garden,” Ladies Home Journal 76 (January, 1959), 88.

This well known indigenous large wild iris is commonly grown in gardens and used in large landscapes throughout the country. It is a perennial, evergreen plant which grows up to 1.5m in large clumps. It grows naturally along the eastern coastal areas of the southern Cape, Eastern Cape and southern Kwazulu-Natal where it may be found in full sun or partial shade at forest margins, or in the shelter of taller shrubs on exposed slopes facing the sea.

The name Dietes means “having two relatives” and refers to the relationship between this genus and Moraea and Iris. Grandiflora means “large flower”.

Dietes grandiflora plants grow from underground rhizomes. The long, rigid, sword-shaped leaves are held in a fan shape. The leaves are dark green and may reach up to 1m long and 15-20mm wide.

The attractive flowers are large (about 100mm across) and are white with yellow nectar guides and outer tepals and violet central segments. The flowers are held on erect, slender stems which are about 1m in length.

The flowers are borne in mass at certain periods – often after rain in summer. The individual flowers do not last more than a couple of days (so are of no use in a vase) however, the plant bears so many flowers during the peak period that the plant looks most striking. The flowers attract lots of bees and other pollinators.

This plant is occasionally called the “Fairy Iris” because the fragile white petals not only look like fairy wings, but also have a tendency to disappear mysteriously overnight!

The large wild iris fruit is a large capsule up to 45mm which is held erect and splits open to release shiny, dark brown seeds. . . .

. . . There are six species of Dietes – five of which occur in South Africa – and one on an island in the Tasman Sea (between New Zealand and Australia). Dietes were once called Moraea (a closely related group), but were separated because Dietes have a rhizome, whereas Moraea have a true corm.

–from Sharon Turner ,“Dietes grandiflora DC,” Witwatersrand National Botanical Garden, December 2001,

Horse Chestnut

the Paris / street-tree, the horse-chestnut”

“The Camperdown Elm,The New Yorker, 63 (September 23, 1967) 48,  ll. 9-10.

The chestnut-tree (Esculus hippocastanum) that adorns our lawns and shrubberies in the spring with its splendid spikes of upright flowers is a distinct species from

Horse Chestnut Tree

the Edible Chestnut we have been describing. It is not an English tree, but was introduced some centuries ago, and was then called “a rare foreign tree.” Indeed, an old author, who mentioned it in those days, declares that he planted it in his orchard as a fruit-tree, between his Mulberry and his Walnut, and that he roasted the chestnuts and ate them.

The native country of the Horse Chestnut, as it is called, is not very clearly known, though some writers declare it came from India. At all events, it found its way from Asia into Europe about the middle of the sixteenth century, and from the Levant was brought to England. It is a very ornamental tree; and when planted in a park or lawn, its overshadowing branches form an excellent protection from the sun, and the deer will congregate beneath it, and feed upon the chestnuts, which they relish greatly. The leaves are large and deeply cut, and of a dark-green colour. They are rarely injured by the frost of a capricious spring, because Nature has provided a covering for the tender bud in the shape of a downy substance that falls off as the leaf expands. The flower-buds are also covered with a gummy matter that serves as a protection, and keeps the interior parts from the wet.

A naturalist once took from the tree a tiny flower-bud, and proceeded to dissect it. After the external covering, which consisted of seventeen scales, he came upon the down which protects the flower. On removing this, he could perceive four branchlets surrounding the spike of flowers; and the flowers themselves, though so minute, were as distinct as possible, and he could not only count their number, but discern the stamens, and even the pollen.

When, in the month of May, the Horse Chestnut is in full beauty, the spikes of variegated flowers present a magnificent appearance; and some a

Paris Street Tree (Horse Chestnut)

uthors have compared it to a chandelier, its long spikes of flowers tapering up from amidst the foliage like so many wax lights. Towards the autumn the chestnut ripens, and falls from the

tree. It is bitter to the taste, and quite uneatable, except for cattle. The nuts ground are, however, given to horses; hence, possibly, the tree gets its name. In their natural state they are eaten by sheep and deer and other* cattle. They contain a great deal of potash, and have even been used as a substitute for soap. Many years ago, a patent was taken out for making starch from the seeds; and the bark is so astringent as to have been used instead of Peruvian bark. The timber is light and of no value, except for packing-cases, and a few other articles of domestic use.

–from Mary and Elizabeth Kirby. Chapters on Trees: A Popular Account of their Nature and Uses.London: Cassell, Petter, & Galpin, [1873], pp. 73-75


“The now tremendous vine-encompassed hackberry  . . .

shades the church tower”

“Virginia Britannica,” l. 9


(Celtis Occidentalis)

HACKBERRY is a common name for this tree in nearly all parts of its range . . . . Its range covers about 2,000,000 square miles in the United States besides part of Canada. It grows from the Atlantic on the coast of New England to the tide water of the Pacific on Puget sound; in southern Florida and in Texas. It is not found in pure stands, but often as single trees far apart.  . . . .

It has been claimed by scholars that the lotus referred to by ancient writers was the hackberry. It was reputed to cause forgetfulness when eaten, but the claim was fictitious, for the fruit does not produce that effect. It is not now regarded as human food. Tennyson deals with the fiction very beautifully in the poem “Lotus Eaters,” but he took liberties with botany when he represented fruit and flowers on the same branch; for, though the berries hang several months, they drop before the next season’s flowers appear.

The hackberry belongs to the elm family, being of the same relation as the planertree. The leaves resemble those of the elm, but are more sharply pointed. The fruit is usually classed as a berry. It ripens in September and October, but remains on the tree several months, becoming dry. It is about one-fourth inch long, dark purple, with a tough, thick skin, and with flesh dark orange. Most of the pale brown seeds are eaten by birds.

The tree varies greatly in size. In some remote corners of its immense range it is little more than a shrub, while at its best it may attain a height of 100 feet and a

Jamestown Church Tower

diameter of three or four. Its average size is about that of slippery elm. The bark varies as much in appearance as the tree in size. Sometimes it has the smooth surface and pale bluish-green appearance that suggest the bark of beech; again it is darker and rougher, like the elm. It frequently exhibits the harsh warty bark which is peculiar to the hackberry, and when present it is a pretty safe means of identification. . . .

It is doubltess used by industries in thirty states or more, but comparatively few factories report it. In Texas it is listed in the box and crate industry. In Louisiana it rises to more importance, for that is the region where the tree attains its best. Slack coopers make kegs, tubs, and barrels of it; vehicle manufacturers convert it into parts of buggy tops and the running gears of wagons; it serves for furniture and interior finish; and it takes the place of ash for hoe handles and parts of agricultural implements. The uses are nearly the same in Mississippi, but it is used there for rustic seats and other outdoor furniture. In Missouri it is found suitable for cart axles, saddle trees, stitching horse jaws, and wagon beds. In Arkansas it goes with ash into flooring, and interior finish for houses. Illinois builders work it into fixtures for stores. In Michigan it serves the same purposes as in Texas, baskets, boxes, and crates. These examples doubtless are representative of its uses wherever the tree is found in commercial quantities..

–Henry H . Gibson. American Forest Trees (Chicago: Hardwood Record, 1914), pp. 404-405.


“the gardenia-sprig”

“Virginia Britannica,” l. 81

Gardenia florida or Gardenia radicans, “Cape Jasmine gardenia”

The gardenia  was named for Dr. Alexander Garden ( fl. 1752-1782) of Charleston, SC, who was a correspondent of Linnaeus.

“GARDENIA.—Some are attracted by the richly fragrant flowers of the Gardenia, while others are repelled by what is called “their sickly odour.” There is no doubt that the blooms are too strongly scented to suit all people, and to stay for long in a hothouse full of Gardenias, or even in a room in which they are used for decoration, Is impossible for many persons, especially ladies. Their chief requirements are warmth, moisture and very little fresh air, except during autumn, when this is necessary so that the growths may be well matured and bloom freely the following year. Cuttings inserted in spring in sandy soil in small pots placed in a closed case above bottom heat form roots readily. Gardenias are naturally inclined to get dirty, and are especially liable to be attacked by mealy bug and scale, so that frequent dressings of Fir Tree oil applied with a sponge are usually necessary to keep them clean.”

–from H.H. Thomas. The Complete Gardener. London,New York: Cassell and Company, 1918, p. 457.


“Some / have perfume; some have not.  The . . . / fuchsia. . . none.”

“The Steeple-Jack,” ll. 74-77.

Natural Order Onagrariee. Genus Fuchsia

F. arborescens

Fuchsia (name commemorative of Leonhard Fuchs, a sixteenth-century German botanist). Natural order: Onagrariee. Genus: Fuchsia. A genus consisting of about fifty species of shrubs or small trees. Leaves oval or lance-shaped, usually opposite, occasionally in whorls of three. Calyx fleshy, coloured, tube produced above the ovary, limb split into four lobes. Petals four, often of different colour from the calyx. Stamens eight, on long slender filaments. Style twice the length of stamens, with head-like stigma.

F. coccinea

Ovary crowned with eight honey-secreting glands. Fruit a pulpy berry. With very few exceptions the species are natives of Central and Southern America; those that are not American come from New Zealand. The first discovery of Fuchsia was made by Father Plumier, who consecrated it to the memory of Fuchs, and published the name in 1703, calling his new species Fuchsia triphylla. The history of the introduction and popularisation of this genus has been often told. The story goes that about the year 1788 a sailor who had returned from South America brought with him a growing slip, which he presented to his wife or his mother.

F. fulgens

This was put in the window and carefully tended in honour of the absent one. In due time it flowered, and there passed by the house a Mr. James Lee, who was a member of a firm of nurserymen still existing at Hammersmith. Struck by the newness of form and habit, he knocked at the door and offered to purchase the unknown plant, but was at first refused. By perseverance and the gradual increase of the amount offered until it reached a figure that was irresistible to the poor woman, he succeeded at last in carrying off the prize; then “kept it dark,” and struck cuttings as rapidly as possible, until he had a large stock when next year he put it upon the market, and realised—it is said—a profit of £300 upon his

F. magellanica

investment. This was probably Fuchsia coccinea, now known as a form of F. macrostema. Eight or ten years later another species—F. lydoides— was introduced; and these remained the only representatives of the genus in our gardens until 1823, [after which many new species were introduced]. . . .  These are the principal natural species, but from the early part of the present century Fuchsias have been so widely cultivated, have sported and been crossed to such an extent, that it is not always an easy matter to refer garden specimens to their proper types. In addition some distinctly new forms, such as F. corallina and F. dominiana, have been evolved by horticultural skill.

–Adapted from Edward Step. Favourite Flowers of Garden and Greenhouse,  Volume 2 . F. Warne & co., 1897, p. 217.

Janis Bergquist of the American Fuchsia Society offers the following species as having been available in Virginia in the 1930s: F. arborescens; F. coccinea; F. fulgens; F. magellanica; F. microphylla. Among the named varieties then available were: Autumnal, Black Prince, Brutus, Caledonia, Coralle, Countess of Aberdeen, Gartenmeister Bonstedt, Lord Byron, Mary, Marinka, Molesworth, Mrs. , undle, Rose of Castille Improved, Schiller, Speciosa, Swanley Gem, Thalia, Tom Thumb, Trailing Queen, and Venus Victrix.  Ms. Bergquist warns (in an email) that fuchsias do not tolerate frost and had there been icy conditions, they would have needed a greenhouse to survive.


“the climate  / is not right for the . . . frangipani

“The Steeple-Jack,” ll. 36-37

Plumeria rubra. Frangipani Aleli

Plumeria rubra

A shrub or small tree, 4 to 5 meters high, having a milky juice. Cultivated in gardens on account of the extremely fragrant flowers, and sometimes called the West Indian red jasmine. The name ” frangipani” or” frangipanni” is supposed to have been applied to this and other species of Plumeria on accountof the resemblance to that of a perfume compounded in the middle ages from a large number of ingredients by an Italian nobleman of that name. It is not known that any attempt has been made to extract a perfume from the flowers of Plumeria.

–from Contributions from the United States National Herbarium, Vol. 8. [Washington D.C.]. Department of Botany, National Museum of Natural History, 1905. P.222.

Foxtail Millet

“resistance with bent head, like foxtail / millet”

“Propriety,” ll. 31-32

Foxtail Millet

Foxtail millet (Setaria italica), including the varieties known as Common, German, Italian, Hungarian, Siberian and many others. In Europe and America they are used wholly as forage, but in other countries have been grown for human food.
344. Foxtail millet (Setaria italica). — There is general agreement among botanists that the cultivated foxtail millets have been derived from the green foxtail (Setaria viridis), now a cosmopolitan weedy grass, especially in the tropics and warmer portion of the temperate zone. Green foxtail is native in temperate Eurasia and botanists have distinguished about 8 varieties, largely based on the relative length of the awns.
345. Agricultural history. — Foxtail millet is a plant of very ancient cultivation. It is probably a native to southern Asia and with little doubt its cultivation began in that region. According to Bretschneider it was mentioned in connection with religious ceremonies in Chinese records about 2700 B.C. Its cultivation is also very ancient in India and it had early spread west to Switzerland as its seeds there occur in the remains of the lake dwellers of the stone age.
346. Adaptations. — The foxtail millets are very rapid-growing, erect annuals, which delight in great summer heat. In general they require the same climatic conditions as sorghum, but as they mature in a shorter time, are adapted to regions where sorghums will not develop sufficiently. They are quite as drought resistant as the sorghums and are important in much the same areas, but as the sorghum will produce greater yields of better forage the foxtail millets are now used mainly as catch-crops when the time is too short for other crops to mature.
–Adapted from: Charles Vancouver Piper. Forage Plants and Their Culture. New York: Macmillan, 1914. Pp, 285-290.


“the foxgrape festoon . . .”

“The Mind, Intractable Thing”, l. 9

First published in The New Yorker, November 27, 1965

“The term fox-grape was evidently applied to various kinds of native grapes in the early days, although it is now restricted to the Vitis Labrusca of the Atlantic slope. Several explanations have been given of the origin of the name fox-grape, some supposing that it came from a belief that foxes eat the grapes, others that the odor of the grape suggests that of the fox—an opinion to which Beverley subscribed nearly two centuries ago — and still others thinking that it was suggested by some resemblance of the leaves to a fox’s track. William Bartram, writing at the beginning of this century, in the Medical Repository, is pronounced in his convictions: “The strong rancid smell of its ripe fruit, very like the effluvia arising from the body of the fox,” “gave rise to the specific name of this vine, and not, as man}’ have imagined, from its being the favourite food of the animal; for the fox (at least the American species) seldom eats grapes or other fruit if he can get animal food.” I am inclined to suggest, however, that the name may have originated from the lively foxing or intoxicating qualities of the poor wine which was made from the wild grapes.* At the present day, we speak of “foxiness” when we wish to recall the musk-like flavor of the wild Vitis Labrusca; but this use of the term is of later origin, and was suggested by the name of the grape.”

–from Liberty Hyde Bailey, Sketch of the Evolution of Our Native Fruits (New York:  Macmillan, 1898), pp. 5-6.


“you have

the tropics at first hand:   . . .

foxglove . . .”

“The Steeple-jack,” l. 27

Digitalis purpurea

Why do some botanists persist in calling the colour of this beautiful flower purple, when it is a rich crimson or deep red, and has not a dash of purple about it ? We, who have walked over hundreds of miles of English ground in our day, never yet saw a purple foxglove, though we have seen acres of ground covered with them, where they seemed to flash up between the green underwood like pillars of fire. We were about to say, that the finest foxgloves we ever gathered were in the neighbourhood of Sherwood Forest, until we remembered wandering through the remnants of wood scattered about Penge, facing the Anerley Station, on the Croydon line—woods which, on looking down from the Crystal Palace, you might fancy you could throw a stone into—and there we gathered the largest and tallest foxgloves we ever saw growing in England. A good walker, starting from Cornhill, would reach these woods in an hour and a half—by rail it is done in a quarter of an hour. No Londoner that ever rode to Croydon but must have seen these little woods; but few visitors to the Crystal Palace but what must have looked over the tops of their trees; and not one in ten thousand of them was aware that the noblest-looking wild-flower England can boast of was growing within five or ten minutes’ walk of the Anerley Station. We are not going to say that it looks so grand in these little copse-like woods as when seen in some of our old English forests, overhung with trees which have been growing for long centuries: still, meet with it wherever we may, it is a kingly flower, standing on its own firm base, neither craving support from shrub nor tree, but hanging out its fiery bloom above the lesser flowers that creep around its feet, like crimson lamps lighting up the green twilight of the denser underwood. Gather it, examine it well, look into its every bell, and see how beautifully it is spotted and freckled; then examine the elegant form of the bell-bloom itself, and you will begin to think that the early sculptors were well acquainted with the foxglove. We have found it growing nearly six feet high, with leaves at the base proportionate to its height, making it look like the monarch of flowers; indeed, no flaunting hollyhock was ever covered with a greater length of bloom, for more than half the length of this giant of the waste was buried in blossom. Though, at a first glance, there seems but little affinity in the family, yet the foxglove belongs to the botanical order of Figworts, the corolla of which is generally in one piece, with a four or five-lobed calyx, and claims kindred with the speedwell, the beautiful little eye-bright, the toad-flax, and several others: like most of the class, it has two long and two short stamens, which are curiously formed, and touch the pistil. The foxglove is, at the same time, a dangerous and a most valuable plant,— dangerous, if eaten or partaken of in any way by the unskillful; but very useful in practical hands, and ranking amongst the highest order of medicinal plants. Pull it up, and you will be startled at the peculiar smell of its root; there is nothing else like it. Very weakly persons would faint away if the dangerous odour was long inhaled, and feel as if they had

” Emptied some dull opiate to the dregs.”

Old Culpepper’s description of the foxglove, though written more than two hundred years ago, is so excellent that we gladly quote it; for no modern writer has in fewer words given so perfect a word-painting of the flower: the ” hoary green colour,” and “soft woolly” feel of the leaves, are the right words in the right places. He says:—” The foxglove hath many long and broad leaves lying upon the ground, dented about the edges, a little soft or woolly, and of a hoary-green colour, among which rise up, sometimes, sundry stalks, but one very often bearing such leaves thereon from the bottom to the middle, from whence to the top it is stored with large and long hollow, reddishpurple flowers, a little more long and eminent at the lower edge, with some white spots within them, one above another, with small green leaves at every one (flower), but all of them turning their heads one way, and hanging downwards.” So far, all this is admirable flower-painting. He then speaks of “the thread in the middle,” and “round heads pointed sharp;” and we get rather confused among his stamens and “small brown seed”

–From  Thomas Miller, Common Wayside Flowers (London and New York: Routledge, Warne, and Routledge, 1860), pp. 123-25.


Linum usitatissimum

“they had a flax which they spun

into fine linen

cordage for yachtsmen.”

“The Jerboa,” Hound & Horn 6 (October-December 1932) 108-113, l. 26

Field of Flax Flowers and Seeds

Flax, plant important as the source of the fiber from which linen is made, and of flax seed. Like the more important cereal grains, flax was known throughout the ancient civilizations in the East. It is known throughout the civilized world, and is valued as almost indispensable. Its botanical name is Linum usitatissimum. The genus Linum contains several species, of which this is the only one of special value or importance. The plant is an annual of quick growth, and probably a race which originated from a species still indigenous to S. Europe. It grows from 1 to 3 ft. high. The leaves are alternate on the straight slender stem and branches. The flowers, in loose terminal panicles, are blue, about an inch in diameter, having a calyx of five sepals, a corolla of five petals, five stamens, and a pistil having five

Flax Flower

styles. The petals drop within a few hours after the flowers open and the seed heads, called bells, form rapidly, becoming finally nearly globular. These consist of ten cells, each holding a flat oval seed, reddish brown, smooth, and glossy. In good soil the plant branches freely, blossoms profusely, and yields a proportionally large quantity of seed.

The stalk is a woody cylinder, more or less pithy and hollow when dry, and enclosed in a bark of long, strong silky fibers cemented by a kind of glue, and encased in an outer bark or skin that adheres as if glued to the filler. The fiber—when freed by the processes of rotting or retting, to destroy the glue; breaking, to free it from the woody cylinder; scutching, to whip out the small particles of bark

Flax in Seed by Hans Hillewaert

and stalk adhering; hatcheling, to straighten it and free it from tangles—is nearly pure bast, of a light grayish-brown color inclining to green, exceedingly tough, capable of being spun and woven, of being bleached to snowy whiteness and of taking color in dyeing, which it holds faster than cotton, though it does not take readily so many dyes. The seed consists of the embryo or kernel and its outer coverings, principally its reddish-brown shell; this latter yields a thick, glairy gum, semisolid when cold. The kernel is rich in a valuable oil (which possesses the property of “drying” or hardening in the air to a great degree by which process of drying it gains, instead of losing weight). Powdered flaxseed and powdered oil cake (linseed meal) are much used in medicine for poultices, etc., and are useful, through their long retention of heat and moisture. The cake remaining after the oil is extracted from the seeds makes when ground a palatable and nutritious food for animals, largely used in the U. S. and Great Britain.

In Europe, Russia leads in flax production; then come, in order, Austria, Italy, Belgium, France, and Ireland. The finest flax is used for making lace. In the U. S. this crop is cultivated almost wholly for the seed; the lint being roughly treated and used for cordage and coarse fabrics.

–from Appleton’s New Practical Cyclopedia. New York: Appleton, 1910, pp. 402-403.


“The Steeple-Jack,” l. 31

“cattails, flags blueberries and spiderwort”

“The Asparagus of the Cossacks”.


This plant proves to be the Typha latifolia, a species well known, and very widely distributed over the globe. The rootstocks of the Typhas are said to abound in starch, so that their qualities are nutritious. [Called by some the potato of Bokhara,] that reputed happy capital, inhabited by Tartars, Jews, Turcomans, Mussulmen, and Cossacks, the plant which they eat instead of potatoes is an aquatic. For three centuries it has been called by the French, Marteau or Masse; the Greeks have named it τύφη; the Latins, Typlia; the Germans, Quarrenkolben or Licfshnopsen; the Flemings, Lisch-dodden, or, simply, Donsen. It is the Typha lalifoiia of botanists.

We cultivate the Typha latifolia as an ornamental plant in ponds ; but it naturally abounds in our waters where the depth is not too great. . . . and if we are correctly informed, the leaves were only employed for litter, and the dried stems and rhizomes for fuel. What a glorious feast they would have afforded, when young, for the Cossacks! Dr. Clarke gives full details respecting the utility of the typha. He found the inhabitants of Teherkask so enthusiastic with respect to the excellence of the shoots of the typha, that they regarded it as a sacred plant, a special gift of Providence. The lower parts of the stem are brought to the tables at every meal; and in every house bundles are to be found, about three feet in length, tied like asparagus, ready for use. It is sold in the markets, and amongst the provision merchants. It is best used in spring, like our asparagus, when the plants begin to shoot. It is said that in this state it forms a dish which those that have once partaken desire again with increasing relish.

The Cossacks are still more choice in their use of the typha. They peel off the cuticle and select the blanched tender part, usually about eighteen inches in length, near the root ; and this constitutes a dish, cool, agreeable, and wholesome. ‘The Cossacks, rich or poor, young or old, prefer this vegetable to all others. a very nutritious and excellent dish.

The typha is prepared like asparagus, being cut, like the latter, when the young shoots are pushing; the tender blanched part is boiled in water seasoned with salt, and served up in the same way as asparagus. The various culinary preparations to which the asparagus is subjected are equally applicable to the typha; for it may be cut, stewed, prepared for serving up with yolk of eggs, enhancing the flavour with nutmeg and salt. The typha, therefore, which ornaments the sides of our lakes and ponds with its elegant foliage and singular tops, may be turned to useful account; for although the plant is eaten, both by Tartar and Cossack, that is no reason why one, being neither, should not avail himself of that which God has created good. Even the French cooks employ various culinary plants for which we are indebted to the Cossacks, among which we may mention tarragon, and a delicious rhubarb.

–Adapted from The Annals of Horticulture; and Yearbook of Information on Practical Gardening for 1850. London: Charles Cox, 1850, p. 524.


Fiddlehead Ferns

“Marriage,” l. 139

It is in early spring that one likes to take up for the first time an out-door study. But if you begin your search for ferns in March, when the woods are yielding a few timid blossoms, and the air, still pungent with a suggestion of winter, vibrates to the lisping notes of newly arrived birds, you will hardly be rewarded by finding any but the evergreen species, and even these are not likely to be especially conspicuous at this season.

Usually it is the latter part of April before the pioneers among the ferns, the great Osmundas, push up the big, woolly croziers, or fiddleheads, which will soon develop into the most luxuriant and tropical-looking plants of our low wet woods and roadsides.

At about the same time, down among last year’s Christmas Ferns, you find the rolled-up fronds of this year, covered with brown or whitish scales. And now every day for many weeks will appear fresh batches of young ferns. Someone has said that there is nothing more aggressively new-born than a young fern, and this thought will recur constantly as you chance upon the little wrinkled crozier-like fronds, whether they are bundled up in wrappings of soft wool and protected by a garment of overlapping scales, or whether, like many of the later arrivals, they come into the world as naked and puny as a human baby.

Once uncurled, the ferns lose quickly this look of infancy, and embody, quite as effectively, even the hardiest and coarsest among them, the slender grace of youth. Early in May we find the Osmundas in this stage of their development.

–from  Frances Theodora Parsons, How to Know the Ferns: A Guide to the Names, Haunts, and Habits of  Our Common Ferns (New York: Scribner’s, 1889), pp. 17-18

Elephant Ears

“Efforts of Affection”

“unsheared sprays of elephant-ears”


By the Editor, C. M. Hovey

“The Colocasia esculenta, as it is now called, is an old and familiar plant to many cultivators, known for a long time as the Caladium esculentum, a native of our own country, and introduced into Europe in 1739. It grows in the Southern States, where its roots attain considerable size, and are edible. In Fayal [Azores], where it has been introduced, it is cultivated extensively, and large roots, sent to us by Capt. Burke, under the name oiyams, proved, upon planting, to be the Colocasia. It is as an ornamental plant, however, that we bring the Colocasia to the notice of our readers. It is but recently, since attention has been directed to the introduction of fine foliaged plants, that this

The Original

species has been reclaimed from the neglect of many years, and its great merits for ornamentation been acknowledged. The ease with which it is cultivated, the rapidity of its growth, and the immense size of its light green leaves, distinguish it as a most attractive and effective object for the lawn or garden: associated with Cannas, the Pampas Grass, the Phormium tenax, Bananas, and similar large leaved plants, it harmonizes well, and as an outer row to circular beds, or even as single specimens, it is a fine addition to any collection. A group of the best Cannas, eight or ten feet in diameter, surrounded with the Colocasia, produces a superb effect on the edge of the lawn.

“The culture of the Colocasia, as we have said, is simple. The large fleshy roots or tubers should be potted in March or April, and forwarded in the hotbed or greenhouse, until the weather is favorable, which is usually the latter part of May, when they should be turned out into the open ground, planting in very rich soil, rather moist, and be freely and copiously watered in dry weather. Under this treatment the plants attain the height of two to three feet, with leaves three to four feet long, and two feet or more in width.

“Upon the approach of cool weather, or as soon as the first frosts have disfigured the foliage, the roots should be taken up, the tops cut off, dried thoroughly, cleaned of dead leaves, and put away in perfectly dry sand, under the stage in the greenhouse, where no moisture will reach them, remaining here until the time to pot again in spring. They are rapidly increased by dividing the roots with a sharp knife.”

–from The Magazine of Horticulture, Botany, and All Useful Discoveries and Improvements in Rural Afffairs. Vol. 33 (1867), 251-252.


“The Arctic Ox (or Goat)”

Taraxacum officinale. Composite Family.

If Emerson’s definition of a weed, as a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered, be correct, we can hardly place the dandelion in that category, for its young sprouts have been valued as a pot-herb, its fresh leaves enjoyed as a salad, and its dried roots used as a substitute for coffee in various countries and ages. It is said that the Apache Indians so greatly relish it as food, that they scour the country for many days in order to procure enough to appease their appetites, and that the quantity consumed by one individual exceeds belief. The featherytufted seeds which form the downy balls beloved as “clocks” by country children, are delicately and beautifully adapted to dissemination by the wind, which ingenious arrangement partly accounts for the plant’s wide range. The common name is a corruption of the French dent de lion. There is a difference of opinion as to which part of the plant is supposed to resemble a lion’s tooth. Some fancy the jagged leaves gave rise to the name, while others claim that it refers to the yellow flowers, which they liken to the golden teeth of the heraldic lion. In nearly every European country the plant bears a name of similar significance. –from Mrs. William Starr Dana,  How To Know the Wild Flowers, New York: Scribner’s, 1896, p. 158.

“Bold Ruler’s Diet:

Mountain Valley water,

dandelions. . . . ” (ll. 50-53)

Bold Ruler, b. 1954, Horse of the Year, 1957

We all know about that annoying weed, the Dandelion, that seems to grow in our lawns no matter what we do. The Dandelion actually has a strong diuretic action and is rich in potassium, magnesium and calcium. Vitamins A, B, C and D are rich in this pesky weed and horses have been reported actually digging their paddock in order to reach the potent properties of the Dandelion root. –from Basic Herbal Treatments for Horses by Gwenyth Browning Jones Santagate


“No Better Than a Withered Daffodil”

The following excerpt comes from Our Garden Flowers by Harriet L. Keeler  (New York: Scribner’s, 1910), pp. 61-72, with some excisions.


The Garden Narcissi are classified into three divisions according to the character of the corona, thus:

Group I.—Long-crowned. In this group the corona is as long or longer than the segments of the perianth. The Trumpet Daffodil, Narcissus pseudo-narcissus, with its varieties and hybrids, is the type of this group.

Group II.—Medium-crowned. In this the corona is one-half to three-fourths the length of the perianth segments. The Superb Narcissus, Narcissus incomparabilis, is the type.

Group III.—Short-crowned. In this the corona is very short. The Poet’s Narcissus, Narcissus poeticus, and the Paper White Narcissus, are types of the group.

All the Narcissi have bulbs which are really dwarfed stems, surrounded by succulent leaves. These are underground treasure houses, in which the material made by the leaves in the spring has been stored up and kept intact through summer heat and winter cold. From this bulb arise the leaves and flower stems of the new plant.

To the family characteristics of the Amaryllids the genus Narcissus adds one that is peculiarly and distinctively its own. The union of calyx and corolla is so complete that botanists make no effort to distinguish them, and call the floral envelope a perianth. This takes the form of a tube with a spreading six-parted border. At the very throat of this tube, at the point where the border divides into spreading segments, there develops a growth known botanically as a corona or crown. Sometimes, as in the Trumpet Daffodil, it is long; again, as in the Poet’s Narcissus, it is short; but it is always more or less frilled and crumpled at the margin. Double flowers appear in many species; they, however, lack the grace of the single forms.

Baker, in his “Handbook of the Amaryllidacea,” reduces the species of Narcissus to sixteen; other writers recognize more. But it seems to be good opinion that the Garden Narcissi, of which, all in all, there may be a thousand varieties, are, in the main, the hybrids and the variations of six species.

TRUMPET DAFFODIL: Narcissus pseudo-narcissus.

Daffodil pseudo-narcissus

The best-known daffodil of our gardens, the type of the long-crowned group. Exceedingly valuable. Native to south-western Europe and the Mediterranean region; naturalized in England; extensively grown in Holland for exportation; not long-lived in America.

The Trumpet Daffodil is such a favorite among us that one wishes it would naturalize here; but so far the common experience has seemed to prove that it will not, except possibly in a single form. Usually the plant struggles along in the open for a few years, and then, as a rule, succumbs to the unfavorable conditions of our climate. The secret of having fine daffodils is to replant continually with fresh bulbs, and as these are cheap it is no great hardship. Under cultivation the Trumpet Daffodil takes on many variant forms; but in the type the perianth is yellow, the trumpet crown as long as the spreading segments, and the stamens are attached low in the tube.

The flower has an exquisite grace, a kind of spiritual beauty, and about its golden and radiant head has gathered a halo from the ages. It has touched the imagination and moved the hearts of the English people from most ancient times. The Anglo-Saxon name is music in itself, af-fa-dyl-le—with every vowel sounded.

The variant forms fluctuate about the type; the corona enlarges or contracts, the gold deepens or pales, in a few varieties the flower becomes bicolored, in others it fades into pure white. Thus varying in detail, but true in essentials, the daffodils pass, a procession of loveliness, through the changing days of May.

Our best double form of the daffodil is named in the catalogues Van Sion. Curiously enough, it seems to be the strongest member of the species. The variety has been able to maintain itself in this country for years and is the common daffodil of old-time gardens. In the oldest form the corona disappears as a separate body and supernumerary segments are present. The form now sought by gardeners is that in which the segments remain intact, and the trumpet tills with petaloids. This double daffodil has long been cultivated in England, where it is known as Narcissus telambnius plains; it is, however, simply a variety of Narcissus pseudonarcissus.

Another attractive species of the longcrowned group offered by the trade is Narcissus

Narcissus bulbocodium

bulbucodium, the Hoop-Petticoat Daffodil. This is rather a delicate plant in appearance, with a small bulb and slender leaves, of which there are three or four with each scape. The flower is solitary, bright-yellow in all its parts—the very prominent thin corona so extending the tube as to make the perianth funnel-shaped. The stamens are rather long and inserted at the base of the tube. The type is native to southern France and northern Africa; it blooms in April and May and runs into many garden forms.

Typical of the medium-crowned group, resembling the Trumpet in general effect, yet different in detail, is the Superb Daffodil, Narcissus incomparabilis. A native of France and Spain, and recognized as a distinct species, many botanists believe it to be a hybrid, the result of a union between the Trumpet and the Pheasant’s Eye, Narcissus poeticus. Botanically, it differs from the Trumpet in the shorter corona and the longer perianth tube, but resembles it in bulb, and leaf, and structure of the flower. Both the type and its variants are reputed hardy.


Narcissus poeticus

Strong-growing species; sometimes a foot and a half high; the type of the short-crowned group. Native to France, Switzerland, and southern Europe. Naturalizes readily in this country. May.

Narcissus pocticus is in this country the most vigorous species of the genus. It naturalizes readily and may be grown successfully either in garden beds or scattered through the grass. Indeed the plant often does better in half-neglected places than in the well-kept border where it has richer soil and more consideration. It rather likes to be a weed. Should an old bed of poeticus fail to flower satisfactorily, the probable reason is that the bulbs have increased beyond the capacity of the bed, and that they are starving.

The name pocticus implies that this species is that of the classical writers of antiquity; but the ancients were so indefinite in their descriptions of plants and flowers that a satisfactory decision is impossible. The plant which replaced the youth who died from love of himself, Ovid says, was yellow; Virgil once calls it yellow, and a second time refers to it as purple; Dioscorides records it as purple. Narcissus poeticus is white, with a small yellow corona strikingly red-edged, so that there is in the flower both yellow and red. It is believed that the ancients often confounded red and purple, if, indeed, their purple was not our red. The identification is obviously imperfect. Pheasant’s Eve of course refers to the yellow and red corona.

The plant has long been a favorite. The blooming period is normally the last of May, though earlier varieties have been developed. All the varieties are profuse bloomers, and most of ihem are hardy. In the double form the corona disappears entirely and the segments are greatly increased in number, thus making the flower pure white.


Narcissus paperwhite

Sturdy free-blooming plant, largely used for winter forcing; tolerant of the conditions of ordinary homes; asks only water and light to bloom in mass. Belongs to the short-crowned group.

The Polyanthus Narcissi are best known to us in the varieties of Narcissus tazetta alba, the Paper White Narcissus, and Narcissus Tazetta orientalis, the Chinese Sacred Lily. Both are extremely popular for winter bloom.

The flowers of the Paper White come out in clusters of four to thirteen. Each flower makes a broad angle with its stem. The perianth tube is about an inch long, pure white, though a little greenish where it joins the vividly green ovary. It broadens into six pure-white segments, three exterior and three interior. The flowers of well-grown and vigorous plants are from an inch to an inch and a half across. A beautiful tiny corona, crinkled and scalloped, sits upon the throat of the tube, and out of it look the yellow anthers of three stamens; the other three stamens are in seclusion lower down in the tube.

The Paper White can be forced in any ordinary living room. Given six or eight bulbs, planted in a dish sufficiently deep to allow coarse gravel or pebbles to be packed about them so as to hold them in place, the bulbs well supplied with water and kept in a dark, cool place until abundant roots are produced—this is all that is necessary for success. By the time that a heavy mat of roots has been formed, the leaves have started. At this stage the dish of bulbs should be brought into abundant light. It is best in steam-heated rooms to place the plants at the coldest window; they are lovers of cold, not of warmth, and too great heat blasts the buds; sixty to sixty-five degrees is a good temperature. Most living rooms are too warm for them; and unless a cold niche can be found the bloom may prove unsatisfactory. But with an agreeable temperature and plenty of sunlight the plants will bloom delightfully, filling the room with delicious fragrance. Nearly two weeks elapse between the appearance of the first and the last blossoms of an ordinary cluster, and as the clusters do not all come forth at the same time there is a long flowering period. Though the flower looks delicate, as a matter of fact the texture of the petals is almost leathery. the narcissus blooms morn by morn with fair clusters, crown of the great goddesses of yore.” 1

Narcissus tazetta, the primitive type from which the garden forms of clustered Narcissi are derived, is a species remarkable for its variability as well as for its geographical distribution. Its range extends from Portugal through southern Europe and northern Africa to Syria, Persia, Cashmere, India, on to China and Japan. It is very rare to find a tropical plant that so nearly encircles the globe. The Paper White in some respects well represents the type, yet the primitive blossom is white with a lemon yellow corona, and in this respect the Chinese Sacred Lily more nearly represents it.

Notwithstanding all that has been said about red and purple, since the matter is undecided one may be permitted to believe that this primitive form is the ancient Narcissus, the flower of Mohammed’s devotion, “wondrously glittering,” whose “sweet scent caused all the broad heavens above and all the earth to laugh, and the salt waves of the sea.”

This Narcissus was not only the theme of the ancient poets; it was also a decorative flower, used largely in connection with death and burial. That it was so used before the Christian era in the making of funeral wreaths is known from the actual evidence of specimens of the Narcissus tazetta flowers which after long entombment were unearthed in 1888 from an ancient cemetery at Hawara.

Narcissus jonquilla

JONQUIL: Narcissus jonqilla.

One of the long-cultivated species of Narcissus; quite hardy in the Middle West. Native to southern Europe and northern Africa.

There has been a curious interchange of name between this species which is the real Jonquil, and the Trumpet Daffodil, which is often called Jonquil. It is, upon the whole, best to use the names as the books record them. The Jonquil leaves are rushlike, not flat; the flowers slender and delicate, in a cluster, pushing out from a common enclosing spathe. The plant is somewhat at a disadvantage in comparison with the Trumpet Daffodils, because of its very delicacy.

+ + +



“Virginia Britannia”

“the etched / solidity of a cypress”

CYPRESS (Cupressus), in botany, a genus of fifteen species belonging to the tribe Cupressineae, natural order Coniferae, represented by evergreen aromatic trees and shrubs indigenous to the south of Europe, western Asia, the Himalayas, China, Japan, north-western and north-eastern America, California and Mexico. The leaves of the cypresses are scale-like, overlapping and generally in four rows; the female catkins are roundish, and fewer than the male; the cones consist of from six to ten peltate woody scales, which end in a curved point, and open when the seeds are ripe; the seeds are numerous and winged. All the species exude resin, but no turpentine.

C. sempervirens, the common cypress, has been well known throughout the Mediterranean region since classic times; it may have been introduced from western Asia where it is found wild. It is a tapering, flame-shaped tree resembling the Lombardy poplar; its branches are thickly covered with small, imbricated, shining-green leaves; the male catkins are about 3 lines in length; the cones are between 1 and ij in. in diameter, sessile, and generally in pairs, and are made up of large angular scales, slightly convex exteriorly, and with a sharp point in the centre. In Britain the tree grows to a height of 40 ft., in its native soil to .70 or go ft. It thrives best on a dry, deep, sandy loam, on airy sheltered sites at no great elevation above the sea. It was introduced into Great Britain before the middle of the 16th century. In the climate of the south of England its rate of growth when young is between 1 and 1^ ft. a year. The seeds are sown in April, and come up in three or four weeks; the plants require protection from frost during their first winter.

The timber of the cypress is hard, close-grained, of a fine reddish hue, and very durable. Among the ancients it was in request for poles, rafters, joists, and for the construction of winepresses, tables and musical instruments; and on that account was so valuable that a plantation of cypresses was considered a sufficient dowry for a daughter. Owing to its durability the wood was employed for mummy cases, and images of the gods; a statue of Jupiter carved out of cypress is stated by Pliny to have existed 600 years without showing signs of decay. The cypress doors of the ancient St Peter’s at Rome, when removed by Eugenius IV., were about 1100 years old, but nevertheless in a state of perfect preservation. Laws were engraved on cypress by the ancients, and objects of value were preserved in receptacles made of it; thus Horace speaks of poems levi servanda cupresso.

The cypress, which grows no more when once cut down, was regarded as a symbol of the dead, and perhaps for that reason was sacred to Pluto; its branches were placed by the Greeks and Romans on the funeral pyres and in the houses of their departed friends. Its supposed ill-boding nature is alluded to in Shakespeare’s Henry VI., where Suffolk desires for his enemies ” their sweetest shade, a grove of cypress trees.” The cypress was the tree into which Cyparissus, a beautiful youth beloved by Apollo, was transformed, that he might grieve to all time (Ovid, Met. x. 3). In Turkish cemeteries the cypress— ” Dark tree, still sad when others’ grief is fled, The only constant mourner o’er the dead “—

is the most striking feature, the rule being to plant one for each interment. The tree grows straight, or nearly so, and has a gloomy and forbidding, but wonderfully stately aspect. With advancing age its foliage becomes of a dark, almost black hue. William Gilpin calls the cypress an architectural tree:” No Italian scene,” says he, ” is perfect without its tall spiral form, appearing as if it were but a part of the picturesquely disposed edifices which rise from the middle ground against the distant landscape.” The cypress of Somma, in Lombardy, is believed to have been in existence in the time of Julius Caesar; it is about 121 ft. in height, and 23 ft. in circumference. Napoleon, in making the road over the Simplon, deviated from the straight line in order to leave it standing. The cypress, as the olive, is found everywhere in the dry hollows and high eastern slopes of Corfu, of the scenery of which it is characteristic. As an ornamental tree in Britain the cypress is useful to break the outline formed by roundheaded low shrubs and trees. The berosh, or beroth, of the Hebrew Scriptures, translated ” fir ” in the authorized version, in 1 Kings v.8andvi. 15, 2 Chron.ii. 8 and many other passages, is supposed to signify the cypress.

–Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th Edition (1910) Volume 7, page 694.

Crape Myrtle

“Smooth Gnarled Crape Myrtle”

See lines 5-8 for the description of this tree.

New English Weekly 8 (October 17, 1935) 13

Moore wrote to Hildegarde Watson on 19 July 1934 that she was visiting a home surrounded by a garden containing s row of crape myrtle trees. She was staying with her brother in or near Norfolk, Virginia. near the North Carolina border. The following description accounts for the “smooth” if not the “gnarled” aspect of the tree’s trunk.

“Crape Myrtle (Lagerstrcemia indica), a native of India, frequently planted throughout the coastal region of the Southern States, is a slender tree with several stems from the same root, and short, fastigiate branches, forming an oblong crown. It reaches a height of 35 to 45 feet and the cluster of stems attain a diameter of 12 to 24 inches, each stem being from 6 to 8 inches through. The smooth bark is russet or occasionally olive brown and the stems are more or less fluted. The small, thin, dark green foliage appears late in spring and turns crimson in early autumn. The flowers, of a deep rich crimson, pink or pure white, according to the horticultural variety, are borne in abundance during the summer months, the flowering period being quite extended.

“The root system, while rather deeply seated, is compact and young plants can be easily transplanted. When trees become too tall or spreading, they can be either topped or trimmed. The crape myrtle is free from insects and diseases. It is easily propagated either from the seed or by shoots which appear around the base of the stem.

“One of our most gorgeous trees, it is scarcely adapted for general street planting, but can advantageously be used for several blocks as an ornamental tree or for planting in parking strips or in alternation with standard shade trees, or along small avenues.”

–from W. W. Ashe. Shade Trees of North Carolina. Raleigh: E. M. Uzell, 1908, p. 59.

Cork Oak, Quercus suber

Cork Oak Acorn

“Armor’s Undermining Modesty”

“If tributes cannot be implicit,

give me . . . the cork oak acorn grown in Spain”

First appeared in The Nation 170 (February 25, 1950) 181


Quercus Súber.

“The Cork Oak grows naturally in the southern parts of France, in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and the States of Barbary, which are comprised between the 44th and 35th degrees of latitude. It rarely exceeds forty feet in height and three feet in diameter. Its leaves are evergreen, but the greater part of them fall and are renewed in the spring; they are ovate, thick, slightly toothed, of a light green on the upper surface and glaucous beneath. The acorns are rather large, oval and half enclosed in a conical cup, and, being of a sweetish taste, are eagerly devoured by swine.

“The wood is hard, compact, and heavy, but less durable than that of the Common European Oak, particularly when exposed to humidity. The worth of the tree resides in its bark, which begins to be taken off at the age of twenty-five years. The first growth is of little value; in ten years it is renewed; but the second product, though less cracked than the first, is not thick enough for corks, and is used only by fishermen to buoy up their nets. It is not till the tree is forty-five or fifty years old that the bark possesses all the qualities requisite for good corks, and from that period it is collected once in eight or ten years. Its thickness is owing to the extraordinary swelling of the cellular tissue. It is better fitted than any other substance for the use to which it is appropriated, as its elasticity exactly adapts it to the neck of the bottle and its impenetrable structure refuses exit to the fluid.”

–from Michaux, F. Andrew.  North American Sylva. . . [with] a Description of the Most Useful European Forest Trees. Philadelphia: Rice, Ritter, 1865, pp. 55-56.

Cork Oak

In a bracketed note, apparently added after the text was developed, the author    writes:  “It gives us pleasure to record here that the acorn of the Cork Oak has been introduced into the Southern States by importations made at the Patent Office. This first effort should be followed by others, till we are independent of foreign countries for an article of prime importance.”

+ + + + +

Calla Lily

Calla Lily

“The Jerboa”

Princes / clad in queens’ dresses,

calla or petunia / white

For chasteness of beauty, stateliness of mien and extreme easiness of management as a pot plant in either the living room window or the conservatory, the calla lily, arum lily, Egyptian lily, or lily of the Nile, as it is variously known in cultivation, has few equals and no peers. Richardia africana is its botanical cognomen, and despite its appellatives Egyptian lily and lily of the Nile, and the oft-repeated assertion that it lines the banks of the river Nile during the growing season, its native habitat is extreme South Africa instead of Egypt. And in its native land this regally beautiful plant typifies anew the truth of the familiar saying that “familiarity breeds contempt,” for in the Cape Colony it grows in such profusion and luxuriance that it is known by the name of pig-lily. –Walter Nathan Pike, Home and Flowers: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine Devoted to the Home Beautiful (10:4, August, 1901, p. 7.

Campeprdown Elm

“Camperdown Elm”

“but imagine

their rapture, had they come on the Camperdown Elm’s

massiveness and ‘the intricate pattern of its branches,’

arching high, curving low, in its mist of fine twigs.”

The Camperdown Elm, Ulmus glabra ‘camperdownii’, planted near the Prospect Park, Brooklyn,] Boathouse in 1872, has developed into a stunning specimen. No more than 12 feet high, it resembles an oversized bonsai. It is the most famous specimen tree in Prospect Park. The weeping shape of this elm is extremely attractive and a peek under the canopy reveals an amazing branching structure. The many cavities in the branches and the size of the trunk show that this is an older tree.

Camperdown Elm

Between 1835 and 1840, the Earl of Camperdown’s head forester, David Taylor, discovered a mutant contorted branch growing along the ground in the forest at Camperdown House, in Dundee, Scotland. The Earl’s gardener produced the first Camperdown Elm by grafting it to the trunk of a Wych Elm (Ulmus glabra) – the only elm species that the Camperdown will accept as a root stock. Every Camperdown Elm in the world is the product of a cutting taken from that original mutant cutting and is grafted onto a Wych Elm trunk, usually 4-6 feet above ground.

Suffering from severe decay a century after its donation to the Park, the elm’s fifteen minutes of fame arrived in 1967 when Marianne Moore’s poem about it helped raise funds to pay for its treatment. –from Prospect Park’s website

Cactus Pad (Opuntia)

“The Jerboa”

“the brown dandy

looked at the  jasmine two-leafed twig

and bud, cactus pads, and fig.”

Hound and Horn 6 (October-December 1932), pp. 108-13.

OPUNTIA, Miller.

(The Indian Figs or Prickly Pear.)

The ordinary type of Opuntia is one of the most familiar forms of Cactus. The peculiar flattened, oval, or elliptical branches destitute of leaves, but armed with abundant spines, constitute the distinguishing characters of the Indian Figs as they are known to most people, and that, in fact, is the predominating form in this large genus. There are, however, many very striking departures from these prevailing characters: for instance, several species have irregularly cylindrical stems and slight elevations of the surface, similar to but not so prominent as the tubercles in other genera, and identical with them in structure. Some of these species have very slender stems, such as O. leptocaulis, and when not in flower could scarcely be recognised as a member of the Indian Fig group. In one respect the Opuntias are especially peculiar, and this is in the production upon the younger branches, particularly of the flat-stemmed kinds, of small thick fleshy appendages, which are regarded as leaves, or, at least, as their representatives. These appear below the clusters of spines, and are very prominent upon the young growth of 0. vulgaris and others, but they either become shrivelled and scarcely perceptible as the stem increases in age, or they fall off, and they never advance beyond the rudimentary state mentioned. Structurally this is interesting, as it is a step towards the leaves which we find so strongly developed in the next genus, Pereskia. The intermediate gradations appear to have been lost, for the transition is a very sudden one from the grotesque Opuntias to the comparatively slightly modified Pereskia, which makes the nearest approach to the ordinary characters of flowering plants.

The floral structure of the Indian Figs does not present any strongly marked variations. The sepals and petals are very numerous and indistinguishable, the outer generally narrow, the inner broader and spreading. The stems are shorter than the petals in a dense central cluster, above which the five to seven-lobed stigma is slightly raised. A large proportion of the species have yellow or orange-coloured flowers, and though some of these are exceedingly handsome the majority are not very imposing and of little value in gardens. The fruits, which have given the popular name to this genus, are comparatively large, 3 to 4 inches long and 2 to 3 inches in diameter, egg-shaped, or in a few cases somewhat Pear-like in form, covered with clusters of minute spines, and containing a sweet or sub-acid pulp of a rather agreeable flavour. Over 150 species are known, all natives of America, principally California, Mexico, Chili, and Peru, but two or three have been been long naturalised in South Europe, North and South Africa, and other widely separated portions of the globe, that they have become as abundant as native plants, and are often regarded as such by travellers. –The Journal of Horticulture, Cottage Gardener, and Home Farmer. London. November 6, 1884, p. 422.


“An Octopus”

“feeding on heather-bells and alpine buckwheat”

The Dial 77 (December 1924), 475-81.

BUCKWHEAT (Fagopyrum), a grain, native of Asia, and called bit Sarrasin, or Saracen wheat, by the French, after the Saracens or Moors, who are believed to have introduced it into Spain. It thrives on poor soils, comes rapidly to maturity and is most frequently planted in tracts that are not rich enough to support other crops. It is extremely sensitive to cold, being destroyed by the least frost, but it may be planted so late and reaped so early as to incur no danger from that source. Its flowering season continues for a long time, so that it is impossible for all the seeds to be in perfection when it is reaped, and the farmer must decide by careful observation at what period there is the greatest quantity of ripe seeds. Buckwheat does not exhaust the soil, and by its rapid growth and its shade it stifles weeds, prevents their going to seed and leaves the field clean for the next year. As a grain, buckwheat has been principally cultivated for oxen, swine and poultry; and although some farmers state that a single bushel of it is equal in quality to two bushels of oats, others assert that it is a very unprofitable food. Mixed with bran, chaff, or grain, it is sometimes given to horses. The flour of buckwheat is occasionally used for bread, but more frequently for cakes fried in a pan. In Germany it serves as an ingredient in pottage, puddings and other food. In the United States it is very extensively used for griddle-cakes. Beer may be brewed from it, and by distillation it yields an excellent spirit. It is used in Danzig in the preparation of cordial waters. Buckwheat is much cultivated by the preservers of game as a food for pheasants. If left standing it affords both food and shelter to the birds during winter. With some farmers it is the practice to sow buckwheat for the purpose only of plowing it into the ground as a manure for the land. The best time for plowing it in is when it is in full blossom, allowing the land to rest till it decomposes. While green it serves as food for sheep and oxen, and mixed with other provender it may also be given with advantage to horses. –Encyclopedia Americana. New York: 1918, p. 313.


“The Steeple-Jack”

“cat-tails, flags, blueberries and spiderwort”

Poetry 40 (Jun., 1932), pp. 119-122.

Vaccinium Pennsylvanicum, Lam. Low or Dwarf Blueberry.

This is a low-growing shrubby little plant, seldom over a foot in height, with green, angular or warty branches. The leaves are bristly serrulate, smooth and shining on both sides, and the flowers are white or pale pink. The fruit is sweet and fine flavored, commonly blue with a glaucous bloom, though forms with nearly black fruit sometimes occur.

This is the earliest of the huckleberries to ripen, and one of the finest. It is not so firm as the preceding species, but with careful handling may be carried long distances, and is extensively sold in market. It is found upon dry, rocky hillsides and mountains from New Jersey to Illinois, and northward to Newfoundland and the Saskatchewan. It has not yielded readily to the demands of cultivation. The best results have ordinarily come from simply improving its natural conditions. A dwarf form of it, var. angustifolium, Gray, occurs in New England to Newfoundland. –Fred. W. Card. Bush-Fruits. New York: Macmillan, 1920, p. 377.


“The Steeple-Jack”

“The climate

is not right for the banyan”

Poetry 40 (Jun., 1932), pp. 119-122

The Banyan is a tree which attracts a particular notice on account of one distinguishing and remarkable property. Its horizontal branches naturally extend to a great distance from the parent stem, and being unable to support their own ponderous weight, as they shoot forward, fibrous roots drop perpendicularly from them, and after touching the ground swell to the size of pillars, and bear up the loaded boughs with the utmost firmness. These stem are smooth columns, covered with bark of a silver color, and put forth no shoots. When they first leave the tree they are of a brownish hue, as flexible as hemp, and wave in the air like ropes. After entering the earth, they become stationary, and are to be found about the same tree, some measuring less than three inches, others upwards of eleven feet in circumference. A full grown leaf of this tree is five inches long, and three and a half broad. The fruit is the size of a small cherry, of a deep scarlet color, and has a bright yellow circular spot round that part of it which touches the tree. The flower, like that of all other figs, is contained within the fruit. They afford food to monkeys and a variety of the feathered race, but are not sweet to the taste, and are never eaten by man.

The full height of a Banyan tree is from sixty to eighty feet, and many of them cover at least two acres. The wood is used only for fuel; but the pillars are valuable, being extremely elastic and light, working with ease, and very tough. It resembles a good kind of ash. —The Children’s Magazine, N.S. Vol. 28, 1856, p. 66.


“When I Buy Pictures”

“an artichoke in six varieties of blue”

The Dial 71 (July 1921), 33.

The globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus), also called “French artichoke” and “green artichoke,” derives its common name from the northern Italian words articiocco and articoclos. This latter term is supposed to come from the Ligurian word cocali, meaning a pine cone. The artichoke is a perennial in the thistle group of the sunflower family and is believed to be a native of the Mediterranean and the Canary Islands. In full growth, the plant spreads to cover an area about siz feet in diameter and reaches a height of three to four feet. The “vegetable” that we eat is actually the plant’s flower bud. If allowed to flower, the blossoms measure up to seven inches in diameter and are a beautiful violet-blue color. –various sources; the origin of the name warmly disputed.



“An Expedient–Leonardo da Vinci’s–and a Query”

“he drew flowers, acorns, rocks–intensively”

Acorn is the fruit (a nut) of the oak tree (the flowering plant genus Quercus of the beech family Fagaceae). The acorn contains a single seed (rarely two seeds), enclosed in a tough, leathery shell, and borne i n a cup-shaped cupule.

The acorn provides an important food resource for many animals, including birds, squirrels, deer, and bear. Reflecting the harmony in nature, many of these same animals also serve as dispersal agents for the acorn, spreading its germination range out beyond the shadow of the parent tree. At one time, the acorn was a dietary staple for the indigenous peoples in North America who were able to leach out the bitter tannins. In southern Europe and parts of Asia, acorns have been ground into a flour used for making bread or flavored jelly.

The acorn also is valued in a symbolic way, as expressed in the proverb “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow,” and even “Every majestic oak tree was once a nut who stood his ground.” These statements reflect on the potential within people and their ideas. The mighty oak, which grows to an old age of hundreds of years, passing through all the frosts and droughts and adverse conditions, symbolizing greatness and perseverance through trials and hardships, arises from a little acorn. –“Acorn” in New World Encyclopedia,


  1. Her plant lore is fun. I wonder if any other poet had such an extensive use of plants in their poems. She’s interested in their biology and in their symbolism. It’s a bit bewildering to try to track it all down.

    Comment by Kirby Olson — November 11, 2010 @ 12:48 pm |Reply

    • I’m glad you enjoy the “garden.” It is the most popular part of the site, by far.

      Comment by moore123 — November 12, 2010 @ 7:36 am |Reply

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