Friday, August 24, 2012

Cardinal Matters

I never did post the cardinal flower images from my Carmans River trip last August, so this post from my other blog will do double duty today. Minnesotan wetlands do not get the attention they deserve, certainly not from NewYorkers (how could we know?). I've hardly delved into their living beauty, but in short...

I'm well aware of the disdain (see Garden Rant) and the rhetoric (see Michael Pollan) around native plants, ecosystems, and plants termed 'invasive'. I've tried to understand both positions over the years.

As I look upon this cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis, I immediately, emotionally respond to its presence. I wonder if I'm the only one who has noticed this stand amongst the grass and cattails.

On the other hand is purple loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria. It's pale purple wands are pretty, especially so en masse, which is often how one finds it, but hardly stunning. Is this a learned response? If purple loosestrife was a native plant, would I espouse it's regal nature?

I do not know. What I do know is that seeing cardinal flower marsh-side is rare, yet finding purple loosestrife is becoming exceedingly common in Hennepin County ditches, wetlands, and cloverleaf water basins.

Rex likes the purple loosestrife, he says it's pretty where the marsh is just a wash of green. He believes the loosestrife cannot outcompete the cattails and rushes. But I doubt that, as evidenced by New York State's marshes and wetlands. Those must have once looked like Minnesota's, but now many are nearly a monoculture of purple loosestrife. After bloom in July and August, the wetland becomes a wash of dismal brown, whereas Hennepin County wetlands offer a kaleidoscopic interference of green and gold.

I'm not sure people care all that much. Like Rex said, loosestrife is pretty, and it's spread appears incremental, hardly noticeable. Minnesota government has policy, it is labeled invasive, it is illegal to harbor it on private property (this is where tongues tingle with politi-lingual fascism). Yet maybe, maybe, an appreciation for rarified things in life is an elitist affair. And maybe humanity has a thing for the strong, aggressive, and adaptable.


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