This is what I believed. There were ants and ladybugs and butterflies and bees, all much smaller than I was. Then there were kittens and puppies, and me and my family, all on a middle level of size. Above us were the trees and giants, and angels in the clouds, huge beings, ones I could not always see, and they were on the third level of size. The ants and the ladybugs and those creatures that crawled on the ground, they were not always visible to my eyes, just as the giants and the angels were invisible to me too. But I knew they were there. I knew that I controlled the fate of the ant on my toes, and the ladybug that landed on my shoulder. I could allow them to stay or I could force them to be gone. Same with kittens and puppies. They were in control of things that were smaller than they were. My kitten could swallow my goldfish, and there wasn't a thing the poor goldfish could do about it. Silly Joe Devlin could tie my kitten's tail in a knot, and there was nothing my Kitty Fluff could do about it. But I could lob a black walnut right at the back of Joe Devlin's miserable neck, and there wasn't a thing he could do about that either. And those very large things that I could not see? Well, those giants could squash me like a bug if they wanted too, and the angels could swoosh down and fly me away, if they wanted to, but just like Kitty Fluff trusted me to take care of her, I had to trust the angels to take care of me.
So that was my theory for many years, still is, actually when I think about it. There are some things we are here to take care of, just as there are some unseen things that will take care of us, and the chain is not broken. Anyway that was my creed, the one I spent my days and nights living by, and it helped me to understand those things that were unexplainable. I felt the same way about plants. I could see the beauty in the tiniest little bloom, and woe be upon the one who stepped upon the face of the smallest violet. I have been known to stand in front of the blades of the hand pushed lawnmower, glowering at anybody who dared mow down a stand of clover. And Joe Devlin and his evil cronies stayed out of my way.
My favorite plants were those that seemed helpless. If it wilted, I gave it a drink of water. If broken, I made a crutch from a twig to hold it up. I have been known to do that even now. And when my tiny grandson says, "Oh Nana, I found a butterfly with one wing, what can I do?" "Then we will make her happy, Ethan, we'll place her in the middle of our most beautiful giant red hibiscus." And the butterfly will live its remaining moments in happiness, Ethan will be happy and so will I. Silly? Well maybe, but it is also the reason that I often pick the tiniest, most insignificant blooms to write about. I think they deserve our attention.
Take tiny shepherd's-purse for example. Capsella bursa-pastoris is a native of the Old World that now thrives around the globe. It is a fragile looking plant that is well suited for survival: a single plant can produce up to 40,000 seeds. It grows in sandy or loamy soil in sunny, open waste lands, pastures, lawns and gardens. It is a hardy self-pollinating annual, growing to 18 inches high. The stem rises from a basal rosette of lobed or divided leaves; smaller alternate clasping leaves grow along the stem. Small white flowers that bloom throughout the year have four petals and produce small, distinctive, heart-shaped seedpods. The seed pods resemble pointed shovels, but the pods were most commonly compared to the leather pouches in which shepherds carried their food, hence the name shepherd's-purse. Our oldest ancestors used the seeds medicinally as many things: laxatives, controlled bleeding, cures for hemorrhoids, and for healing wounds. Our more recent ancestors ate the peppery young leaves like spinach, or used them to season stews, and the seeds can be substituted for mustard seeds as well.
I can find no evidence that supports any negativism directed at shepherd's-purse. It seems to still be accepted medicinally for its hemostatic properties, that is, the ability to stop bleeding, so as small as it is, it does have a purpose.
I know I had some very unusual ideas about life as a child, but you know, those ideas were formed early on, and I don't see much reason to change now. Even the tiniest living thing has a reason to be. Well, maybe not Joe Devlin. I have not seen him in many years, I vaguely remember he tucked tail and ran the last time I threatened him with a handful of wriggling grub worms. As he ran, he was trying to get rid of those that made their way down his shirt collar.
All photos are from Plant Files. Thanks to photographers: Creekwalker for the thumbnail, Xenomorf for the two photos within the article, and Kennedyh for the final image.