Spring Beauties

Green so intense it’s iridescent! Maybe it’s because there are no leaves on the trees yet to block the rainbow green of first shoots: tulips, lilies, violets, waterleaf. As I walk the alleys west of my house following the light, I spy trout lilies under a garage overhang. The only ones in the neighborhood.

Three types of trout lilies grow here–the rare Dwarf. and its larger cousins. white and yellow, found throughout eastern North America all the way into northern Canada. The tiny Dwarf lodges only in Minnesota around Faribault and in the Nerstrand Big Woods, usually at around 1000 feet on the hillsides beside streams.

The little patch I cherish is surely the larger white trout lily, so secretive and ephemeral that occasionally I miss it entirely, for the patch of plants rises like magic from the cold soil, its speckled leaves like trout seen through rippling water. Then the tiny up-turned bells appear briefly, and soon when the leaves on the trees above come out, the flowers disappear, the leaves subside into the soil, and the little patch is a memory. This is the earliest I’ve ever spied them. It’s the earliest spring ever recorded, since the 1880s. I catch my breath, hoping that the little patch will survive.

It’s already been damaged by unknown hands that threw heavy chunks of concrete on its eastern portion. Then last fall, the well-meaning (I assume) electric company came through and sheered off the screen of scrub trees that shielded the lilies from the alley. This is such a delicate plant, even in its larger variety, since it propagates only through runners underground, and then only those plants that have put out a flower. I catch my breath again, hoping it survives the more intense sun this year, hoping to greet it next year.

My other favorite earlier bloomer is scilla, also called Spring Beauty. Its blue is so intense that I have to stop, as if a carpet of velvet from the Virgin’s mantle lay itself down. Because it is so bright a hue, not so delicate, and lasts longer, it is often planted in yards and along alleys. One patch that I’ve loved in previous years is now covered over with brush–the homeowner either didn’t care or couldn’t help him/herself. The beauty either removed or tamped down. I sigh, as I often do in early spring–such fragility, bravery, intensity.

The moustache orchid upstairs in my bathroom, which I’ve been trying to help bloom for several months, now has two round bulbs of flowers on its stem. I know I lack the proper “grow light” to force it forward. For weeks, I’ve been trying to protect the rather vulnerable stem–tying it higher, moving the plant farther from the desk edge to protect it from jumping cats. With all the green suddenly sprung outside, I find my hope for this orchid diminishes. I’m ready to give it up, and try again next winter.

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