Wildflower Walk

This coming Sunday I’m leading a wildflower walk with our Writers’ Group to the John Muir Country Park. It started with an exercise at the last group meeting, when Ken allocated each of us a wildflower name and asked us to write something inspired by it. While most of the efforts were entertaining and clever, mine was downright creepy. I don’t know where it came from. Anyway, I’ve always loved flower names, and although my botanical training and my work at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh means that I can usually supply the Latin name, the old names have a special magic that can add a special dimension to a poem, or start a writer thinking along unusual pathways.

Take the name Leopardsbane, for example (Doronicum pardalianches). It has nothing that could possibly link it to a leopard – in leaf, flower or whatever. I’ve not seen it mentioned in print, but I suspect this might be a corruption of ‘Leper’s Bane’, with the plant possibly yielding a real or imagined specific against leprosy or some other skin condition. Just a thought.

The plant I was assigned was Enchanter’s Nightshade*, and although I can’t remember if it has any toxic or intoxicating uses (it’s not in same family as Deadly or Woody Nightshades, which do), I came up with this:

Enchanter’s Nightshade

Come, sip, let me draw down
the blinds of thought
and loose the bonds
of feeling.

Hear the beat
of your own heart,
the music of your body.

Let your skin open
to the warmth of mine.
Taste the fumes of incense,
a sweetness close to acrid,
on the soft tissues of your throat.

Dream on, beloved,
free your passions,
be, for this night,
what before you would not dare.

Live quick, live now,
and know, for you,
tomorrow is the last word
you’ll hear.

* Note added later: Just discovered in Mabberley that the name was originally applied to mandrake, which contains hyoscyamine, a toxic hallucinogen. I don’t know why the name was transferred to Circaea, which seems an innocent little thing by comparison. Maybe I should change the title to Mandragora, or soma (isn’t Mabberley wonderful for that sort of reference?).


About sunnydunny

Poet, publisher, gardener
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5 Responses to Wildflower Walk

  1. BarbaraS says:

    Mabberley sounds like a book I’d like to get my hands on. This is creepy, but it’s great!You should get that poem for two voices recorded – then we’d be able to hear it the way it’s intended 🙂 Sounds very promising. I have one for three voices, that was performed live once with percussion instruments that can’t remember the name of – off to find out what they were now!

  2. Crafty Green Poet says:

    I really enjoyed this poem, very creepy in a good way. I’m also fascinated by plant names. My favourite plant name when i was a child was Vipers Bugloss and its nice to see Arthur’s Seat covered in it nowadays!

  3. Colin Will says:

    Thanks to you both. We saw a lot of Viper’s Bugloss on our walk, along with carpets of flowering thyme, centaury, and two different orchid species. The only one we didn’t see (and I was expecting to) was Scarlet Pimpernel.

  4. Crafty Green Poet says:

    Scarlet pimpernel? I had always thought it wasn’t found this far north, well just goes to show!

  5. Colin Will says:

    We get it landward of the dunes, where the rabbits keep the turf close-cropped.

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