Eloise Butler

Article published in Bulletin of the Minnesota Academy of Science, Sept. 1911.

by Eloise Butler, fromThe Wild Botanic Garden

American SpikenardIN specifying the herbs, mention must be made of the large specimen of Aralia racemosa, or spikenard [photo right], growing on the borders of the swamp. Near by the wild calla flourished in its adopted home and its relative Symplocarpus, the skunk cabbage, one of our earliest bog plants to bloom, for it literally thaws its way through the ice. Deep in the recesses of the swamp are the orchids – coral root, habenarias, and our state flower, the showy cypripedium.

Of the orchid family, either indigenous or introduced, are now in the garden six species of cypripedium, eight of habenaria, [Platanthera] Orchis spectabilis, [Galearis spectabilis, showy orchis] Pogonia [P. ophioglossoides, rose poginia], Calopogon [C. tuberosus, grass pink], Arethusa [A. bulbosa, dragon’s mouth], two species of twayblade (Liparis) Aplectrum, coral-root, and three species of rattlesnake plantain (Epipactis) [Goodyera].

Imbedded in the sphagnum, close by the lady’s-slippers, is the pitcher plant, the only species of this latitude . . . In the treeless swamp is an abundance of the tiny, round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia), another insectivorous plant . . .

Cat-tails abound in the neighborhood of the brook. Near them have been established colonies of sweet flag (Acorus) and fragrant vanilla grass, used by the Indians in basketry. In their season the rosy swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), asters, and goldenrods, glorify the meadow. One of the most precious possessions of the garden is the twin-flower named for the great Linnaeus and said to be one of his favorite flowers. The day is memorable on which it is first enjoyed in its perfection. The wild garden is its only station in Minneapolis.

With the Linnaea is found the dwarf cornel, also local in Minneapolis, the herbaceous relative of the dogwood shrubs, valued for hedges on account of their ornamental fruits and stems. The fruit of this cornel is red and edible and is commonly called bunchberry. Other indigenous rarities of the meadow are three-leaved smilacina, Menyanthes [buckbean], Tofiedia [T. glutinosa, false asphodel], Chelone [turtlehead], marsh rosemary and the small cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccus). Especially prized are the gentians – the larger and the smaller fringed and closed, all abundant and of magnificant growth. The former, pronounced the most beautiful blue flower of the world, florists have but recently learned how to cultivate. The tall blue lobelia and three eupatoriums – the pale purple Jo-Pye Weed, the less striking boneset, with its grayish flowers, and the pure white-flowered snakeroot – are other adornments of the meadow.

Flowering Spurge. . . In the rich soil under the trees, adjusted to their requisite degrees of moisture, are our most conspicuous shade plants, among them Sanguinaria [bloodroot], three species of Erythronium [trout lily], five of Trillium, and two dicentras – Dutchman’s breeches and squirrel corn.

For the instruction of the unwary harborage is given to poisonous plants like the water parsnip and hemlock, poison ivy and sumach, and to the pernicious parasite, the Cuscuta or dodder, the enemy of cereals.

On the treeless slopes, the prairie plants are well established – euphorbias [s[urges], liatris [blazing stars], asters, golden-rods, petalostemums [prairie clover], Vernonia [ironweed], Heliopsis [ox-eye] being the leading genera ...

A wild garden is beautiful at all seasons. After the heavy frosts and before the kindly snow covers up in the cultivated gardens the unsightly bare earth – suggestive of newly made graves – and the dead bodies of herbs, and the tender exotics, stiffly swathed in winding sheets of burlap or straw, awaiting the spring resurrection, I turn with pride and relief to the wild garden, whose frozen ruins are graciously hidden by the shrubs, which then enliven the landscape with their glowing stems and fruits. And how lovely are the waving plumes of the grasses, how endless the varieties of seed-pods, how marvelous the modes of seed-dispersion! The eye, no longer distracted by the brilliant flower-mosaics, sees the less flaunting beauty and rediscovers “the commonplace of miracle.”