Wildflower teaches love for neighbor

VIRGIN’S BOWER Clematis Virginiana

Clematis Virginiana

By Orrin Morris

The concept Jesus taught us when instructing us “to love our neighbor as ourselves” is of divine dimensions. We are to relate generously, putting the well-being of those who are the objects of our love above our personal desires and pleasure.

To love them includes making an effort to meet their needs and providing security, spiritual growth, self esteem, and emotional maturity.

On the other hand, much of what our culture means by love is self-gratification, lust and shallow manipulation.

May we put feet and hands to our words of love. May the examples of Christ in the Bible be the motivating force that breathes new life into our world.

Virgin’s bower is a climbing vine in the buttercup family. It is a native perennial that loves to climb on fences, or intertwine in shrubs up to about ten feet high. The vines do not have tendrils as grapes do, but the vine itself wraps around objects for support.

The 1-inch flowers pictured are males. The female flowers are less decorative until pollinated, when they look like the frayed ends of a ball of yarn. Each vine is either male or female.

Virgin’s bower needs to keep its “feet wet,” that is, if you want to find this midsummer wonder, check out moist ditches along our roadsides or around creek banks. This beautiful wild white clematis is a little hard to find compared to honeysuckle. Diligence is required to find virgin’s bowers during the blooming season: July, August and September.

The blooms are very fragrant and can cause problems for people who are allergic to airborne irritants. Further, people with sensitive skin often get dermatitis from handling the plant. Nevertheless, herbalists use a mixture of leaves and blooms to relieve severe headaches.

The broad diversity of plants in the wildflower kingdom is evidence of God’s love. I have documented over 300 different species since I started this column in 1997. They range from the tiny blooms of the pool sprite at the horse park to the giant 10-inch cotton rose. Some wildflower plants stay earth bound like bluets, while others, like the invasive kudzu, reach skyward. Each species is a blessing and a curse.

The fascinating diversity of the wildflower kingdom is paled by the diversity of humankind where there are over a thousand languages and dialects. The wildflower kingdom’s diversity is paled by humankind’s cultural styles and family practices including the range of male and female roles, the values placed on male infants versus female infants.

Whereas there seems to be natural factors that guide the wildflower kingdom, in the world of humans where we are called to “love our neighbor” is chaotic. Wealth and corresponding personal power over neighbors — whether family, employees, community, state, country or other nations — is the dominant value, even if it requires armed intervention.

Into this milieu of human chaos, God sees beauty in the hearts of 7.3 billion people (John 3:16-17). The simple three-word phrase “love thy neighbor” calls for an immediate and serious commitment because this very day there will be 68,000 more deaths and 162,000 more births.

May we put feet and hands to our words of love. May the examples of Christ in the Bible be the motivating force that breathes new life into our world.

This article is reprinted with permission.

St. Andrew’s Cross named after Disciple’s legend

ST. ANDREW’S CROSS Hypericum hypericoides

Hypericum hypericoides

By Orrin Morris

Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist and was present when Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River. When John announced Jesus’ presence to the crowd saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God,” Andrew followed Jesus and became His first disciple  (John 1:36).

Very little attention is given to Andrew today, but it was Andrew who introduced Simon Peter to Jesus (John 1:40-41).  It was Andrew who introduced Jesus to the boy with a lunch that Jesus used to feed the five thousand (John 6:8). It was Andrew who, with Philip, brought some Greeks to Jesus (John 12:22).

Legend states that Andrew was martyred on an X-shaped cross. That tradition is the basis for the naming of the wildflower we examine here. However, we will contrast it to another related wildflower named after the disciple John, who authored the book that recorded Andrew’s activities noted above.

St. Andrew’s Cross is in the St. Johnswort family but is without a medicinal history.  This plant is short, ranging from 6 to 18 inches tall. It has a woody stem with many branches and a distinctly shaped flower.

St. Andrew’s Cross has four unequal sepals, four oblong petals, numerous stamens and one pistil. The configuration of the petals, as seen in the sketch, is believed to be similar to the cross on which Andrew was martyred. The yellow blooms measure about 5/8 inch and appear at the end of each branch.

St. Andrew’s Cross blooms from July to September.  It can be found in sandy soil, often amid St. Johnswort, if in a dry area.

St. Johnswort (H. perforatum) is taller, 12 to 30 inches tall, and grows in open woods, thickets, along fences and roadsides. It has a yellow five-petal, 3/4-inch blossom and many stamens. The pistil has three styles.

The leaves are oblong and have translucent or black dots. These dots contain an oil that is believed to cure many ailments associated with sleep problems.

May the examples of both of these disciples inspire us to share the good news of God’s love through deed and word, even if risk is involved.

Rev. Orrin Morris is a retired Baptist minister and artist.  Please see our Contributors page for more information on how to purchase Orrin’s books on wildflowers and faith.

Stop and smell the mustard

BLACK MUSTARD Brassica nigra

Brassica nigra

By Orrin Morris

Too often we are in such a rush to either make money or spend money that we do not take time to enjoy wildflowers. Proverbs 28:20 reminds us to evaluate anew the order of our priorities. “A faithful man will abound with blessings, but he who makes haste to be rich will not go unpunished.”

Often that punishment is self-inflicted by anxiety or over-indulgence.

The wildflower for today I call a roadside wildflower. It thrives in some of the most barren habitats. It reminds us that God is present even though the circumstances of our life that cause us to feel neglected, rejected and left to survive in a barren place.

Several years ago, as a very large mall was being developed, I stopped on the side of the partly developed street. I got out and walked along the recently graded shoulder where there were three specimens of this wildflower. These plants were only 18 inches tall, but as I researched the species I learned some may grow to 6 feet or more.

At first glance, the black mustard appears to have both yellow and white blooms but this is not so. The yellow flowers bleach in the sun and as they die they turn a translucent white, somewhat like wet tissue paper. The flowers measure less than 1 inch in diameter with four petals that rarely overlap.

The leaves along the lower part of the stem are deeply lobed, as pictured. The seed pods mature along the stem within a week or so after the bloom falls.

Black mustard is an immigrant from Europe. The young leaves were cooked and eaten as greens. The seeds were crushed for the distinctively flavored oil, used as a seasoning.

Several varieties of the mustard family have been developed for modern gardens, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, and turnips.

A close relative, bitter cress (Cardamine parviflora), is among the earliest spring blooms.

There are many wildflowers that bloom spring, summer and fall and we deprive ourselves of the calming assurance of God’s abundant blessings when we ignore them. Many flowers are so small that we have to kneel to really see them.

If God is so generous with the flowers of nature, think of how much more eager He is to abundantly bless us, His highest creation.  May you discover that peace as you worship God this Lord’s Day.