A couple of days short of Memorial Day here at the October Country Inn and, after a few days of light rain, a spot of warm weather has settled in. Our world has exploded in green. Seems like in a week’s time, the maples have leafed out, lilac and apple trees have bloomed, and roadside weeds are knee-high. Before this crescendo of botanical abundance, a mere couple of weeks ago, only the hardiest of Vermont’s Spring wildflowers decorated the trailside.
Trout-lilys (Erythronium americanum) were the first to appear. The name comes from their leaves that resemble the color and pattern found on native brook trout. Trout-lilys are native to north-eastern woods and grow in colonies that can be 300 years old. The Trout-lily is a myrmecochore, meaning ants help to disperse the seeds and reduce predation of the seeds. To make the seeds more appealing to ants they have an elaiosome which is a structure which attracts the ants. Another early bloomer is the purple trillium (Trillium erectum). It is also a native to north-eastern woodlands. It is a spring ephemeral, a herbaceous perennial whose life-cycle is synchronised with that of the deciduous forests where it lives. Its name is derived from its three lobed leaf arrangement and a flower with three petals.
Lastly, the small but mighty common blue violet (Viola sororia) grows low to the ground and can be easily overlooked. Also called wood violet, or the lesbian flower, it is also native to north-eastern woods, and is the state flower of Illinois, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Wisconsin. This plant has historically been used for food and for medicine. The flowers and leaves are edible, and some sources suggest the roots can also be eaten. The Cherokee used it to treat colds and headaches. The common blue violet is also called the lesbian flower because in the early 1900s, lesbians and bisexual women would give violets to the women they were wooing. This symbolized their “Sapphic” desire, so-called because Sappho, a Greek lyric poetess, in one of her poems described herself and her lover as wearing garlands of violets. This practice became popular in the 1910 – 1930 time period, and has become a substantial symbol for lesbian and bisexual women in the modern era as well.