Right now, living in Houston is like living in a terrarium. And it's going to keep up this temperature / humidity extravaganza for about six more months. So pardon me if I appear somewhat damp - the truth is, anything less than soaking wet is considered perfectly acceptable around here. I'm grateful for every dry moment.
But what I've been looking at, on my daily romps through the lush, tropical woodlands surrounding Houston's bayous, are miraculous wildflowers that seem to thrive in the heat.
One of my favorites is the swamp milkweed that appears about now, in June. Its flowers start like the photo on the left -- purple stems with clusters of bright green pods that hang heavy like clumps of grapes.
A few weeks later, this green-on-green concoction erupts into an explosion of white flowers, and the stems gradually fade from purple to green. The fragrance is intoxicating, and since some of the milkweed bushes where I roam have grown to 12 feet high and 12 feet across, the air is pretty staggering.
The Real Birds & Bees
I don't know where I heard this originally but it's stuck with me -- white flowers are almost always more fragrant because smell is their only means of attraction. Think of magnolias, gardenias, sweet alyssum - even white roses naturally pack an olfactory punch.
A little perfunctory research turned up, not exactly scientific validation of this statement, but at least an acknowledgement that:
Gross, but whatever. All I know is that I like the idea that Mother Nature tries to do the right thing by giving every plant its own set of attraction tools -- which is what she also tries to do with people, I think. Sooner or later, the right nectar-seeker comes along and just dives in, ends up with pollen on its hairy little legs, to be carried to the next flirty flower.
Whoever first exclaimed, "What a world!" really got it right. I love my walks in the world and the wonder they inspire. I also love this poem by dear Mary Oliver, a poet who for 30 years has praised simple nature:
Why I Wake Early
Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who made the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crotchety –
best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light –
good morning, good morning, good morning.
Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.”
Read her work.
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