Inspiration often arrives in non-conventional ways. Stepping from my car, donning mask and gloves to shop in the new normal, I found the sight of this Queen Anne’s Lace plant oddly cheering.
It’s a survivor, amid a clump of straggly grass, its bloom one of the most perfect I’ve seen from this type of wildflower. A species I love, no matter how common.
O’Brignal banks are wild and fair,
And Greta woods are green,
And you may gather garlands there
Would grace a summer queen.
-Rokeby, Sir Walter Scott, 1771-1822
Ah, for the days when poets composed sonnets to weeds.
I’ve always loved Queen Anne’s Lace, though in America farmers and gardeners seem to discount its beauty and consider it a pest.
But it’s much less invasive and dangerous than some later arrivals, like knotweed, poison hemlock (and garlic mustard, though I must profess my love for it too, in spite of the fact that it may be taking over forest borders from more demure wildflowers like trillium, spring beauty, bloodroot).
My mother told me the name of Queen Anne’s Lace way back when I was a child. She said it was a weed, but I sensed a part of her appreciated it like I did. I still imagine bridal bouquets whenever I see fields sprinkled or frosted with clusters of the frilly blossoms.
The Complete Language of Flowers by Sheila Pickles tells us that the name references Queen Anne’s love of lacy head-dresses. The tiny purple floret at the center of each bloom is said to represent blood from Queen Anne’s finger when she pricked it while making lace.
Queen Anne’s lace towers over chicory in this photo. Often they are nearly the same height but that wasn’t the case on this roadway.
Observers of nature don’t always need a calendar to tell them what month it is. When rural roads sport a fresh lacy border of lavender and white, I know it’s July. Chicory and Queen Anne’s Lace appear often together, and they make for a lovely match, a fairy tale style display for those who appreciate Mother Nature’s floral artistry.
Chicory blooms, the pale purplish puffs dancing on wavy stems are one of my favorite wildflowers. I don’t remember noticing them till I was in my twenties, though they must have been there all along. They resemble bachelor’s buttons a bit and are similar in color, though paler than the typical cornflower blue of the cottage garden plant. Chicory was originally imported as a coffee substitute, I believe, and is still sometimes added to coffee blends, I believe to curb bitterness?
Queen Anne’s Lace I seemingly always knew, as my mother pointed them out when I was still so young that the plants towered over my head. Though never a fan of lace on clothing for myself, I love the dressy casual style of the off-white blooms that top wiry stems with feathery foliage. I’m not sure why this plant, also called wild carrot, was imported. The flat blooms all sport one tiny purple floret in the center.
Apparently both plants like dry stony soil as they thrive beside roadways. I see them along narrow gravel lanes, and also at the edge of the median strip of prominent divided highways.
They bring back memories of chauffering my mother along country roads in midsummer. She always pointed out the first chicory blooms after I learned about them and made her aware of their presence and the basic history of their arrival in America.