Friday, May 8, 2009

Tread softly

A couple week-ends ago, while A cut up the pine tree that went down in the storm while he was away, I dug up the Tread Softly that had grown up around it. In the end he was horribly bitten by fire ants & I could have left the plant alone. But it has to come out, it is nothing but trouble & this really is the best time of year.

I am fond of the crazy common names of plants. I like it when different plants have the same name. I like it when the same plant has different names. I like the old european names, the patently native american names, the absurd moshes of the two. I like them all. But hands down, Tread Softly just might be my favorite. Favorite name, that is.

It is hard to say when I first encountered this plant, but I can tell you she does not improve with familiarity. The specimens collected over 100 years ago still need to be handled with gloves. So far at least, the poison never dies.

She is a hardy girl, surviving sun & drought but definitely preferring tempered shade. Tread Softly grows densest where it is hardest to pull, beneath fallen trees for example, or immediately under fence lines. I wear a pair of gloves that have been soaked & shrunk to my hands through use, the leather is dense & tight & in the course of three or fours hours work at least half-dozen tiny little spines worked their way into my fingers. & there was no continuing until the spine had been pulled back out.

From a distance, she is rather lovely. Rich dark green leaves, truly white flowers , not cream not yellow (at least not until the specimen has been aged). Clear & dramatic leaf shape. Unmistakable. & untouchable.

Still every spring I am tempted to press just a few. Get them under glass where they cannot be touched & just be admired. What stops me is knowing that in the time from when I first collect the plant until the specimen is sufficiently dry to go under glass, I will be vulnerable. Those spears will make their way from the press in my workroom to every other room in my house. & long after the originals are gone from the press I will find myself stabbed with yet another barb that somehow got left behind.

//while writing this I learned it is also called Finger Rot. I kinda like that, too.

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