When I was a child there were only a few plants that caught my attention. I didn’t see the trees for the squirrels. I wouldn’t look at the flowers for the butterflies. I regarded the grasses only as a place to play and hide. It wasn’t until I learned their names that many plants became interesting to me. Cattails were at the top of the list. I was crazy about animals, cats in particular. They were just the right size for me and oh so sweet! We were rarely a dog family, but often had cats as our beloved companions. Two of my favorites were Checkers, a slim black and white and Smokey (the Moke!) a beautiful gray tabby. When I heard the word cattail my imagination went wild. Was this fuzzy soft plant really part of a cat? Were there hundreds of kittens living in the grasses below? Did cats eat this plant? With a tail such as this I could pretend to be a cat! The name cattail evoked wonder and mystery, especially after close examination of this amazing flower. When pulled apart, the tiny little seeds would fly away. As a child I could send a thing up into the air, I could watch it sail along the currents and imagine that I was alight, drifting over the land below on my cattail sailing ship. Cattails have brought a smile to my face and a lightness to my step ever since.
Something similar happened when I heard the name Dandelion. Another cat! A perfect tiny little lion! A yellow feisty feline! Whoever named these plants was brilliant. Can a name change the course of destiny? Can a name direct the path of a young thing? Does a name make a difference? It did for me. This was yet another plant that I could fly with. Some how it gave the tiny little me so much power. To pick a glimmering dandelion, suck in my breath and blow. A quick forceful breath to send those little winged lions shooting up to the stars, or a long and gentle exhale that would move those magical seeds swirling and whirling about my head. In my mind I followed them as they soared up high, imagining the soft caress of the breeze and the effortless lift as I danced in the air. What fun to fly with the dandelion!
From cats to lions I learned to love and appreciate plants. What started with a love of names turned into a curiosity of details. What made that seed fly so high in the air? Why did the plants grow where they did? How could an insect pollinate that plant? Wisdom begins in wonder said Socrates and I couldn’t agree more. Another favorite flower of my childhood held a fascination for me. Snapdragon. With this flower I was taught that with a tiny pinch of my fingers I could snap like a dragon. When I squeezed the flower just so, the jaws of the dragon would open wide, ready to breathe fire! I could make a dragon breathe fire! I was ferocious! I could make these little colorful petals leap open! What danger! I was learning that plants were fun. They were friends. They could engage me, teach me, but most of all take me places that I could never travel on my own. Like a good book, they have remained my loyal companions throughout my life. I can’t wait for my next botanical discovery!
Typha latifolia, come fly with me.