The Plant With Purple Flowers

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Image: Rob Routledge, Sault College (Wikimedia)

Until yesterday I hadn’t paid much attention to the American brooklime. I’m sure I’ve walked past it numerous times–in fields, in marshy pathways puddled with mud, alongside black streams smelling of a warm day’s shade. My life as a forest dweller has likely brought me into unbeknownst contact with the American brooklime countless times, year after year, spring after spring, without me even realizing it. Perhaps in some childhood moment I even noticed it as “the plant with purple flowers”.

As I walked yesterday, I greeted the usual violets, and the avens, and the false-hellebore whose unfurled stalks I remember noticing earlier this spring. Knowing the plants, to me, isn’t about science. It’s about fitting into things. It’s about windy plateaus and the purple blossom of a brodiaea that is just beginning to crisp into seed. It’s about the hillside, waiting for the stinging nettle to grow there again, just as it did last year.

When you’re familiar with plants–their names and cycles; their uses and beauties–you’re more likely to notice the species that you don’t recognize than the ones you do. They pop out, stunning, to you, as butterflies. Sometimes I stop, right in the middle of a busy park pathway, and I crouch down to study the plants I don’t know, holding up a leaf to the light to see if it glints silver with fine, soft hairs.

It seems that every time I go for a walk or a hike, I discover a new one. I go home and I look them up in my field guide, making sure to memorize the plant and the place and the exact experience of it all, and I add them to my remembered collection. Some are familiar, like sitka valerian; others, sultry-sounding, like enchanter’s nightshade. American brooklime, ropy and mint-like, turns out to be an edible member of the figwort family, one that I will recognize, and know, and cherish among the other plants of the forest.

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