It's time to read and vote for your favorite article in the 2013 Write-Off Contest! The four finalist's articles are featured in the May 13 newsletter and can be found through this link. Hurry! Voting ends May 18.
When I was growing up, I identified with the wallflower. It had a habit of clinging to walls and I had a habit of clinging to the sidelines of certain social events. I quickly outgrew that habit, but the wallflower still clings to rock walls.
I don't think I was shy, but entering into some of the activities that are a normal part of growing up was very difficult for me. I had a lot of friends but I only saw them at school, living as I did up the head of a holler. When I left eighth grade to enter high school, I suddenly found myself invited to dances and ballgames, club meetings, and invitations to meet after school for a soft drink at the drugstore in town. That meant I had to expand my circle of friends because high school was about 8 miles from my home. It was a consolidated school, and teenagers from all the surrounding hollers were thrown together with the town kids.
I was familiar with town, because we were in town every Saturday to get groceries at the A&P store, medicines at Quillen Drugs, and candy at Hobbs Dime Store. I was not afraid of town. I was, however, a little afraid of high school. I learned early on that town kids didn't know a thing about gathering plants for making medicines. Most of them couldn't tell a butterfly from a ladybug, and there wasn't a one of them who could bake gingerbread. That was all I knew to talk about and they didn't, so conversations were pretty limited. They sure could dance, though, and I couldn't.
The wallflower, Cheiranthus cheiri, is a popular garden plant in temperate North America. It is a short-lived perennial with stems growing up to a little more than 2 feet tall. Narrow oblong leaves that grow alternately on the stem are about 3 inches long. It flowers from May through June, and the fragrant blossoms range in color from yellow to orange to a yellowish brown. It is of the mustard family and like other mustards, the wallflower produces long, narrow, many seeded capsules after flowering. They grow in elongated clusters at the ends of the stems.
My great Aunt Bett taught me just about everything I know about plants. The wallflower was no exception. She told me that long ago this sweet-smelling plant had romantic associations. As legend goes, years ago in Scotland there was a young woman who was the daughter of a prominent earl. She fell in love with a young man from an enemy clan. She dropped a wallflower from her castle window as a signal to her beloved to tell him that she was ready to elope. As she made her escape, she fell to her death. Her unhappy lover placed the wallflower in his cap and left Scotland forever. After that, the plant forever after became a symbol of the adversity in love. I thought that was the saddest story, and I decided then and there I would never ever fall in love. I didn't want to face adversity, whatever that was.
Ancient Greek physicians believed the wallflower had medicinal attributes. Over the years it was used to relieve pain in childbirth, cleanse the kidneys and liver, and as a treatment for palsy. It was also used as a diuretic. Early in the 20th century, pharmacologists discovered that wallflower's seeds, leaves, and flowers contain a substance similar to digitalis. It acts on the heart, and it is no longer recommended as a medicinal plant. There is too much danger that an overdose will cause heart failure. I don't remember that Aunt Bett used it for much of anything, because I never gathered it with her. I knew of it only because it grew in some gardens there in the mountains. I probably tried to extract dyes from its flowers, since that was one of my favorite things to do with most plants.
As it happened, high school was not as bad as I thought it would be. I quickly made friends, and just as quickly learned that I was going to have to learn to talk about something besides plants and their infusions and decoctions. By that time I would not be caught dead with an asphidity bag around my neck either. I finally did survive the social life of high school, and even graduated with my boyfriend, Billy, right beside me. I also learned to dance.
The problem was, the first year I went away to college, I became a wallflower again. At least I adapted a little faster.
Photos are from Plant Files. Thanks to these photographers: Kniphofia, for the bright golden yellow thumbnail; gardenwife for the foliage; Kim_M for the yellow cluster at the bottom, and Kennedyh for the brownish gold blooms.
In order to verify some mentioned facts, information came from the book: "Magic and Medicine of Plants", the Reader's Digest Association, Inc. @1986.
About Sharon Brown
I am a retired high school art and humanities teacher. I grew up in the Appalachian mountains of southeast KY and now I live with my two rescued cats, Jazz and Daisy, in far western KY. I am an artist often doing commissioned work, and in addition to writing articles for Dave's Garden, I also write boating stories for a nautical magazine as well as other venues. My greatest loves are writing, painting, my 5 year old grandson, then learning the history of our numerous wildflowers in Kentucky. And, of course, there's gardening.