Dandelion more than a pest, a delight of God’s goodness

COMMON DANDELION Taraxacum officinale

COMMON DANDELION
Taraxacum officinale

By Orrin Morris

In Psalm 65:12, the Psalmist rejoices in the beauty of the natural world God has provided. We can easily apply his words to the beauty we anticipate each year in the coming of spring.

The grasslands of the desert overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness.”

One of the harbingers of spring is the common dandelion. Once they start blooming, they are like medallions of sun shining about us. In fact, this season I saw several clusters in bloom.

Eight different names are used for dandelion, depending on the region or culture group you visit. These common names include blowball, cankerwort, lion’s tooth (after the shape of the leaves, which is the meaning of the common name), priest’s crown, swine snout, and wild endive.

Most children view the dandelion as a yellow delight of the natural world, spreading its joyous sunshine. We adults call it a pest because we want uniform grassy lawns. Of course, we adults overrule the children’s delight and the battle to eradicate the dandelion never ends.

Dandelions have a very long blooming season in the South. During a mild winter they may bloom all year. The long tap root must be completely dug up before a plant can be successfully eradicated naturally, otherwise a broadleaf herbicide must be applied.

Dandelions are widely distributed. They have been documented in every state and territory of the United States and Canada. They are in the Yukon, above the arctic circle.

Besides the effects of severe drought on the plant population, dandelions are also adversely affected by soils permeated with salt water and dense shade, as in hardwood forests with heavy undergrowth.

We should be grateful that dandelions are not the pest here that they are up North. As a kid growing up in Omaha, I learned there was a strict code of conduct regarding dandelions.  Mother would scold me if I picked a fluff-ball and blew on it to see the “parachutes” float in the wind.  People who were known as good neighbors taught their children better manners than that. Of course kids will be kids.

As a very young child, my baby-sitter introduced me to dandelions with the promise that if I let her show me a trick I would “get some butter.” In my mind that meant the greasy yellow stuff I put on toast for breakfast. That was not the case. It was a trick. She picked a bloom and rubbed it on my chin. The yellow pollen stuck to my chin like rouge.

During cold weather, the stem holding the bloom is very short. Those I saw earlier this spring were flush with the ground. In hot weather, the soft greenish-white stem may rise 6 inches.

The plant has been useful in spite of its pesky reputation. The young leaves can be picked and boiled as one of the “greens.” Its leaves, before the flowers form, have been squeezed into milk and warmed for a spring tonic. In the fall, the root has been steeped in boiling water as a tea.  Just another sign that, even when inconvenient, the many things God provides is something to behold.

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Mayapple and Resolutions: Sources of Healing for a Hurting World

MAYAPPLE Podophyllum peltatum

MAYAPPLE
Podophyllum peltatum

By Orrin Morris

Many of the resolutions we make for the new year focus on family, economy, and national and global harmony. Resolutions are based on hopes: hope that our sons and daughters will be kept from harm’s way; that we can relate in mutual ways to people whose backgrounds differs from ours; that we become more sympathetic of their struggles in America.   After all, most of us enjoy the delightful taste of their cuisine.  If you have forgotten, may I remind you that only the American Indians are not immigrants.

May the resolutions we make aid in helping peace to be achieved soon, and that it will be worldwide, and may our national economy be robust without the aid of war efforts.

The Christmas season we are completing was foretold in Isaiah. One of the verses said (9:6) “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”

The wildflower we examine today thrives in rich moist woods either near a stream or in a bog fed by a spring.  Like many of our resolutions, it is a rich source of healing and hope for those in need.

Mayapple is native to North America and was introduced to the early settlers by the American Indians. It is the only species in the barberry family that grows this far south. Blue cohosh and American barberry, both present in the north Georgia mountains, are kin. Neither of them inhabit the East Metro area.

Each mayapple plant has only one bloom, a nodding white flower that emerges in the split of the stem between two very large deeply lobed umbrella like leaves, as pictured. The flower is about 2 inches in diameter, somewhat larger than the true apple blossom.

The name mayapple is associated with the time of its appearance and its fragrance that is similar to the apple blossom. There are six to nine waxy white petals, and generally, there are twice as many stamens as there are petals.

The plant ranges in height from 12 to 22 inches. The two very large leaves, each about 12 inches wide, shield the bloom as pictured. Mayapples bloom from April to June and require rich woodland soils in damp shady clearings. They often grow in large colonies. A good example of a colony can be observed on the lowest loop of the watershed trail at Panola Park.

The fruits, which appear in August and September, are large lemon-shaped berries that are occasionally gathered to make jelly. But a word of caution — the unripened fruit is poisonous, as are the roots and leaves. Nevertheless, two modern drugs are derived from mayapple: podophyllin and etoposide.

May our resolutions be as healing, our hopes as rich, and our outreach as inspirational.

Bergamot promotes health, peace, and patience

WILD BERGAMOT Monarda fistulosa

WILD BERGAMOT
Monarda fistulosa

By Orrin Morris

There are four Sundays in the Advent season. The first Sunday, last week, focused on hope.

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah wrote words of hope to the Hebrew’s exiled in Babylon:

In those days, and at that time, will cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land” (Jer. 33:15).

Amid the hopelessness of exile, the prophecy assured them that the Messiah of the lineage of David would come to save all who trusted in him.

This Sunday, the second of the Advent season, focuses on peace. John the Baptist’s father was visited by an angel assuring him of a son who would proclaim the coming of the Messiah with these words, “To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79).

The wildflower for today is not very common, so to find it and benefit from its beauty requires patience. In the same but more serious manner, those Hebrews that remember the exile of 600 years that passed from Jeremiah’s prophecy had to be patient for the fulfillment of his proclamation of peace.

Wild bergamot is also known as Monarda and, for obvious reasons, often mistaken for bee balm. Both plants are present throughout the U.S. Both plants have thin, rigid, hairy stems. Both have serrated leaves of similar size and shape. Both have deep green leaves that are affixed as pairs opposite one another up a stem that may be 2 to 3 feet tall. Both have flower heads composed of two-lipped blooms that stand aright.

The flowers of both plants’ colors are in the reddish range; however, the bee balm blooms are bright red while the bergamot blooms range from light pink (nearly white) to a pinkish-lavender.

The bergamot prefers dry sandy soils while the bee balm requires moist soil. The greenish bracts under the flower head flare out and downward for the bergamot, thus creating a cluttered and enlarged effect. The bergamot has a rectangular stem, and starts blooming in June and continues through September.

This part of the mint family was named after Nicholas Monardes, a Spanish physician who published a book on the medicinal values of plants in the New World. Wild bergamot was also called Oswego tea and used as a treatment for chills and fevers. Other American Indian tribes used tea from the leaves for headaches, sore throat, bronchial infection, acne and to soothe bug bites.

Rev. Orrin Morris is an artist and retired Baptist minister.  His weekly column appears in The Rockdale Citizen.