Saturday, June 7, 2014

Water Lilies

The characteristics and origins of garden flowers and wildflowers are pretty straightforward and obvious most of the time. It's all pretty standard and routine in the flower world. They germinate from seeds, tubers or old roots left to winter in the ground, emerge as foliage and burst into bloom when they're supposed to. Nothing mysterious about that. Some, like marigolds and impatiens, die after a single season and must be replanted anew each year. Hence, their status as annuals, many of which produce seeds that can be harvested and saved for next year.

Then there are the perennials, those faithful and stalwart troopers that die back to ground level but whose roots persist beneath the frozen soil. In spring, we see the result of our fall bulb-planting efforts in the form of daffodils, hyacinths and crocuses; and later come the irises and daylilies, sprouting anew each summer from rhizomes that spread underground and that must be divided when they become too congested.

Then there are those blossoms that appear in odd places, where it seems that flowers shouldn't grow, where the odds are apparently all against them and where it makes no sense for them to even be. But they are, guarding the secrets of their impossible existences in thier very fibers.

In tropical locations that never see any frost, orchids fill that bill, sometimes taking hold in the crotches of old trees where the humidity and light are just right. And here, in the northern hemisphere, in spots too inundated with water to support any other type of flower, where thick almost leathery mats of pads loll about on the gentle currents, water lilies appear, cupped and graceful, each tethered to the bottom of the pond by a single flexible stem that can measure up to six feet long.

Nymphaea odorata emerge from rhizomes, or fleshy roots, growing in the sediment that accumulates on the floor of a lake, pond or along the edges of a slow-moving stream or quiet marsh. The blossoms, composed of white petals arranged around bright yellow stamens, appear in mid to late summer early in the morning and close by mid-day. The leaves, that can measure up to a foot across, are round with a narrow wedge-shaped notch that proceeds outward from where their submerged stems are connected.

Early in the season, a dense mat of new leaves float patiently on the surface of the water for several weeks until the unopened pointed buds of the lilies appear to break up the monotony. As they open, they release the scent for which they are named, but it is a gift reserved only for those who dare to venture near in canoe or kayak or who are able to get up close and personal to the very edge of a body of water in which they grow.

Water lilies are yet more evidence of how nature works to keep the cycle of life going. For the submerged stems and leaves are not only home to aquatic creatures such as frogs, bass and sunfish, but also provide food for beavers, muskrats, deer and ducks.

Looking out over the pond just now, its restless shimmering surface aglow with millions of sun-gems, I wonder how much more breathtaking it could possibly be. Then I notice the water lilies, bobbing among the leaves, and I have my answer

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