Wednesday, May 20, 2015

From unknown unknowns to known knowns

We've previously shared Will Rogers wonderful quotation "It isn't what we don't know that gives us trouble, it's what we know that ain't so." The there's former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's "...there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don't know." My knowledge of Minnesota's wild flowers clearly falls into the third Rumsfeld category, and qualifies me as one able to speak knowledgeably about Rogers'  knowing what ain't so.

Here's the count of native wild flowers blooming per month, as listed on the Minnesota Wildflowers web site.
  • April               89
  • May              235
  • June              421
  • July               476
  • August          413
  • September    269
  • October          89
and what the numbers look like when charted:


I would not have suspected that the count would peak in July, but then my knowledge of wildflowers and woodland plants has mostly been related to what ruffed grouse and woodcock depended on and what deer browsed on. On trout fishing trips, I've noticed early season ephemera that come into and disappear from blossom before the forest canopy closes, and fruit trees coming into bloom late in Spring and early in the Summer season probably biased my ability to see what was right in front of me in July and August. I am susceptible to seeing what I expect to see, or want to see, rather than what's there. Some of what we can look forward to seeing "there" in bloom in August are:

black-eyed susans and common mullein
Photo by J. Harrington

prairie blazing star
Photo by J. Harrington

silky prairie clover
Photo by J. Harrington

Wildflower

Some—the ones with fish names—grow so north
they last a month, six weeks at most.
Some others, named for the fields they look like,
last longer, smaller.

And these, in particular, whether trout or corn lily,
onion or bellwort, just cut
this morning and standing open in tapwater in the kitchen,
will close with the sun.

It is June, wildflowers on the table.
They are fresh an hour ago, like sliced lemons,
with the whole day ahead of them.
They could be common mayflower lilies of the valley,

day lilies, or the clustering Canada, large, gold,
long-stemmed as pasture roses, belled out over the vase--
or maybe Solomon’s seal, the petals
ranged in small toy pairs

or starry, tipped at the head like weeds.
They could be anonymous as weeds.
They are, in fact, the several names of the same thing,
lilies of the field, butter-and-eggs,

toadflax almost, the way the whites and yellows juxtapose,
and have “the look of flowers that are looked at,"
rooted as they are in water, glass, and air.
I remember the summer I picked everything,

flower and wildflower, singled them out in jars
with a name attached. And when they had dried as stubborn
as paper I put them on pages and named them again.
They were all lilies, even the hyacinth,

even the great pale flower in the hand of the dead.
I picked it, kept it in the book for years
before I knew who she was,
her face lily-white, kissed and dry and cold.

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