Where the Wildflowers Are
In The Parklands of Floyds Fork, the meadows are turning gold with Rudbeckia hirta (black-eyed susans), hardy and bright. They remind me of something I learned once, about people who spoke through flowers.
I’ve heard floriography, a flower-based code, was a popular way to communicate messages in the Victorian era. Seeing The Parklands in summer, as I learn the names of everything that blooms, I understand for the first time how flowers could form an entire language.
In the meadows, Cichorium intybus (chicory) grows, pale blue flowers and wiry stem stark against its gilded backdrop, while newly-seeded Rudbeckias spread green and leafy across the soil. Much of the story of summer takes place at ground level and below, where seeds end up and collect until conditions are right for them to germinate. Some species, like invasive honeysuckle, can remain active for up to a century. Young, native plants have a lot to work against, but they hold their own.
Along the road, bursts of orange punctuate the grasses. These are Asclepias Tuberosa, or butterfly weed, one of several varieties of milkweed that grow in The Parklands. Others include Asclepias syriaca, common milkweed, whose tiny flowers grow in pink-ish clusters.
In meadows and along roadsides, Penstemon digitalis grows tall and elegant, hung with pale, bell-like blooms. Echinacea tennesseensis, on the other hand, has drooping, purple-tinted petals which give it a plaintive look: the Eeyore of wildflowers.
Bellis perennis, (common daisies) are everywhere. Also present are their brighter, less ubiquitous cousins: Helianthus divaricatus (woodland sunflowers). The Parklands are full of members of the Asteraceae (also called the aster family or daisy family), one of the largest families of flowering plants. Near the Garden Gateway entrance on Shelbyville Road, Ratibida pinnata (yellow coneflower) grows, distinguishable by the conical shape its petals form. At summer’s end, another relative will grow as well: Helianthus annuus, the sunflower.
Still yet to flower are Eupatorium and Monarda fistulosa (bee balm). Monarda’s square stem and bright smell designate it as a member of the mint family. They’ll bloom in rosy clusters.
At this time of year, the flowers of spring haven’t yet completely ceded to those of summer. Tradescantia ohiensis (Spiderwort), a spring bloomer, is vivid in its final days. Beneath the three purple points of its flower, a row of buds hangs from the stem, a living tally of how many times it’s bloomed. In the woods, the Hydrangea buds wear a greenish tint. Closer to the ground, Phlox bears small, blue blossoms that seem especially bright against the wood’s floor—stars blooming into existence in a verdant sky.
The diversity—of color, of height, of stem shape, of smell— that exists within even a single field is stunning. With no vocabulary but the sweet smell on the wind, the hue and shape of petals, and the times they bloom, flowers can tell us what they are, and that they’ve made it.Story by Libbie Katsev, 2014 Summer Intern in The Parklands, part of the Yale “Bulldogs in the Bluegrass” program.