White as an Indian Pipe
Red as a Cardinal Flower
Fabulous as a Moon at Noon
Emily Dickinson (1250, year 1873)
Have you ever seen Indian Pipe–white and waxy–growing like some walking dead thing under the pines? It’s gorgeous and haunting. Its other name is “corpse plant”, so that should give you some idea of what you think when you first see it!
A long, long time ago and far away (2 hour drive from here) I used to collect wildflowers. I had a backpack filled with everything for hiking and collecting–first aid kit (which I used to help strangers, btw), a wild flower field guide, and a small flower press I’d made myself and painted. (No digital camera back then ).
Well, one day I came across this flower.
I like to use the word “love” a lot when describing my feelings toward any plant that just instantly captures my heart and imagination, but it’s true–I was in love. I wanted to pick it, and press it, and take it home. (As Emily did).
However, if you’ve seen these, too, you know that when you pick them they get back at you by turning black! I even tried to put them on ice so that they would stay white long enough for me to get them home and show them to others–but no.
Emily Dickinson’s first book of poetry, published posthumously, has this flower on the cover. It was one of her favorite, if not very favorite, wild flower. Farr’s books says toward the end of her life Mrs. Todd (Emily’s brother’s long-term lover) painted her a picture of these flowers and she wrote back her thanks, “That without suspecting it you should send me the preferred flower of life, seems almost supernatural, and the sweet glee that I felt at meeting it, I could confide to none” (L769).
Here is a picture of the book:
On pages 172, 173, and 174 of Marta McDowell’s book, Emily Dickinson’s Gardens, she talks in length about the Indian Pipe. Besides discussing its importance to Emily, she also gives a primer on the flower itself. “The Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora) is an unusal plant, visually and botanically. It looks like a waxy albino stem of lily of the valley, completely white and leafless….it is an angio sperm, a flower plant, but one incapable of photosynthesis. Unlike the green growing things around it, it can’t manufacture its own food but relies on symbiotic relationships.” McDowell wonders if this is not very much like the Woman in White, Emily, and her reclusive life at her home in Amherst. (174)
I bring this flower up on my own gardening blog, not because I have any growing on my property–if only–but because I found another wildflower yesterday growing in the pasture and I stopped to take a picture. I’m not sure what it is–some Lupine perhaps? But what a pretty addition from seemingly no where.
Are there wildflowers at your homes–surrounding woods? Any special ones that you look forward to? Have you seen the Indian Pipe?
Please leave a comment and I’ll enter you to the drawing on May 4th.