“Down in the shady woodland where fern-fronds are uncurled,
A host of green umbrellas are swiftly now unfurled.
Do they shelter fairy people from sudden pelting showers?
Or are the leaves but sunshades to shield the waxen flowers?...”
--Mandrakes, Minnie Curtis Wait (1901)
And yes I did feel like I was in the fairy realm as I nearly had to stand on my head to find these lovely blossoms. I was familiar with the leaves and have seen the ripe fruit, but never the flowers. So when I spotted them, I took a peek, and there they were, fair maidens, shy and secretive. The flowers grow in the fork of the stem and are often down turned and completely hidden from view by the large umbrella-like leaves. Jack Sanders, in his book, Secrets of Wildflowers, says the flowers have no nectar but their pollen is used for food by many pollinating insects.
One of these must be the granddaddy long-legs, as we came nose-to-nose while I searched for a blossom to photograph. The flowers are at a late stage as you can see the fruit developing in the center of the pedals.
The plant’s folk names include Indian apple, hog apple, devil’s apple and raccoon berry, but its second most common name in North America is American mandrake. The fruit gets more attention than the flower and the fruit, in fact, is the only part of the plant that is not poisonous. Even the ‘apple’ is poisonous until it fully matures.
The lore of this plant is full of indigenous medicinal uses as well as deadly ones, but today's researchers are finding it to be a miracle plant in the development of drugs to treat cancer. Podophyllotoxin, a chemical found in the plant, is a chief ingredient in two major anticancer drugs that are used to treat several forms of cancer, including leukemia.Postscript: You see that three-leafed plant to the left of the umbrella leaves in that top photo? That's poison ivy. I've managed to get through life without ever having a break-out with the tortuous rash this vine causes, so I'm knocking on wood as I type (a three-handed trick) hoping my lastest prowl in the woods will render it still ineffectual on me.
For the Love of It...
...the sage sees heaven reflected in Nature as in a mirror, and he pursues this Art, not for the sake of gold or silver, but for the love of the knowledge which it reveals.