neighborhood flowers
Ken Lavin

Ken Lavin

A Couple of Neighborhood Flowers

As we stroll our neighborhoods and greenways, practicing social distancing as we go, there are a couple of spring wildflowers in gardens and lawns that we can appreciate during these difficult times.

The golden poppy is hard to miss. It has been California’s official state flower since 1903, but it was first collected and described scientifically long before that.

In 1816 the Rurik, a Russian ship of exploration, sailed into the Bay and docked near what was to become San Francisco. The naturalist on board, Adelbert von Chamisso, encountered hillsides covered with poppies. The well-traveled Chamisso, who described himself as “French aristocrat by birth, Prussian soldier by training, poet by disposition, but naturalist by choice,” collected the flower that was to become the “type specimen” that defines our golden poppy. Then he and the Rurik sailed back to Russia, poppy in hand (or at least in plant press). The flower that Chamisso collected over two centuries ago resides in a St. Petersburg herbarium to this day. So, the Russians have our state flower!

The other flower is less conspicuous but no less interesting. A non-native from Europe and salmon-orange in color, this little flower has two common names. One is “poor man’s weatherglass,” so-called because it predicts the weather, closing up when rain is on the way. It’s not really that smart. The pollen of poor man’s weatherglass is damaged by moisture, so when the humidity climbs above 70%, it closes up.

The flower’s other name is associated with a 19th-century adventure novel by Emma Orczy. In Baroness Orczy’s story, the unlikely hero is Percy Blakeney, a foppish ne’er-do-well by day. At night though, he secretly dons his hero costume and sails to France to rescue folks about to be guillotined. His alias, the Scarlett Pimpernel, leaves the little flower behind as his calling card.

And so as you stroll through your neighborhood, take time to “smell the flowers”, or maybe just give them a close look. Their bright colors and natural beauty might be just the thing that brightens your day!

Header Photo: Andrew via Flickr

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