I was eleven when I read Jack in the Pulpit by John Greenleaf Whittier. The metaphors and message of the poem appealed to my spirituality. By age eleven, I already felt more connected to God in a natural setting than I did in a church. The beautiful illustrations and captivating flower names piqued my innate botanical curiosity.
Were Jack in the Pulpits, Anemones and Wild-Wood Geraniums real flowers? If so, I wanted to see them. I thought Anemones only lived in the sea.
Decades later I nearly fell in the boggy end of Blueberry Pond while touring The Bibby and Harold Alfond Children’s Garden at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. I was crossing the stepping stones when I was distracted by a miracle—Jack in the Pulpits flourishing in nature as opposed to on paper.
My botanical education and interests have broadened as a Master Gardener but I’m still intrigued by a plant’s history and back story. How did the plant get its name and is it attached to a myth? Is the plant edible, ornamental, medicinal, poisonous or a combination of the four?
Carolyn Keene sparked my love of Delphinium ajacis when I saw the stunning, spiky flowers on the cover of The Password to Larkspur Lane. I didn’t see the flowers growing outside a botanical garden until I moved to Southwest Missouri. I planted seeds and jumped up and down as if forty years hadn’t passed when the first Larkspur buds opened in my own garden.
Larkspur has existed for thousands of years and remains one of my favorite flowers. In ancient times they were used for treating wounds and killing parasites. Tradition holds that Larkspur wards off scorpions and poisonous snakes. (Tall Tale Alert: Two summers ago I was stung by a scorpion two feet from my Larkspur patch.)
I found three Greek myths attached to Larkspur. Since they couldn't make up their minds, I picked the one I liked best.
When Achilles was killed, his armor was supposed to be given to the most heroic Greek still living. The most eligible candidates were Odysseus and Ajax. Minerva swayed the vote to Odysseus because she believed heroes should mix intelligence with bravery. (Ajax wasn’t the brightest.)
Ajax went mad when he lost and killed a herd of sheep—he thought they were rivals—before he did the honorable, hero thing and impaled himself on his sword. Larkspur grew where his blood touched the soil. This explains why Larkspur is also commonly known as 'the knight's spur.' And it explains why the Greek letters AI, the Greek cry of mourning, can be found on larkspur petals.
Whoa there. I don't see the letters AI on my Larkspur petals. If petals like these exist, I want to see them. Photos will suffice for now but if this myth is true, I expect to run across initialed Larkspur petals when I least expect it.
Causes Jules Jacob Supports
CASA of Southwest Missouri, Master Gardeners of the Ozarks, University of Missouri Master Gardeners, Missouri Court Appointed Special Advocates Association...