Eastern Sweetshrub reminds us to “be still and know”

east

EASTERN SWEETSHRUB Calycanthus floridus

By Orrin Morris

Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10 ).

Wildflowers are objects of beauty to some and weeds to others. To some of us they are another example of God’s grace. That is, gifts from God that favor us though we do not merit such blessing.  They exalt God’s “in the earth” by their presence.

One of the unique delights we can look forward to in spring is the blooming of the Eastern sweetshrub. It was introduced to our colonial forefathers in 1726 but from what country or region is unclear.

The sweetshrub in my yard blooms for only a week or 10 days, but ooh what pleasure. To me, the flowers are the most redolent of all the spring scents. They waft the fragrance of apple butter cooking in Mama’s kitchen; however, others declare that the scent reminds them of strawberries. If you’ve never been around this unique blossom you’ve missed a treat.

This shrub grows to about 10 feet in wooded areas. Ours is among some pines, but most thrive on hills and stream banks on the edge of hardwood groves. The blooms are deep reddish-brown and measure from 1 1/2 to 2 inches across when fully opened. The dark glossy leaves are opposites and the blooms appear at the axil of each pair of leaves. The chocolate colored branches are smooth.

Two other common names for this shrub are Carolina allspice and sweet Betsy. The Eastern sweetshrub needs moist soil, so like most plants, they don’t do well during extended dry spells.

If you miss seeing and smelling the sweetshrub in our local area this spring, may I suggest you take a trip into North Georgia in June and watch for the shrubs along stream banks. One of the sure places to go is Amicalola Falls State Park above Dahlonega toward Ellijay, Ga.

Eastern sweetshrub can be found from New York and Massachusetts to Florida and westward to Louisiana and Missouri.  Wherever found, they remind us to be still and remember that God is exalted above all.

Rev. Orrin Morris is an artist and retired minister.  This article first appeared in The Rockdale Citizen and is reprinted with permission by the author.

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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.

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.