North of 50 - Dances with Flowers

By Colin Campbell

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Whenever the subject of flowers comes up in conversation, I’ve noticed people assume, because I have a British background, that I will know a thing or two about plants.

Not so, in my case. Fact is, I was raised in a hardscrabble Clydeside neighbourhood where dandelions were considered exotica and buttercups a treasure. The youth around our tenement, a seedy lot, were more into deflowering.

Imagine my surprise then, when I received a call from friends with a horticultural bent inviting me to join them on their group’s annual trek to Manning Park to view the alpine flowers. I was sure they wouldn’t want me along again after last year’s near fiasco, when it was clearly demonstrated that I don’t know a philodendron from a filibuster.

The group members are earnest and avid botanists, gardeners, floriculturists. They not only know the names of just about everything that grows, but are familiar with their Latin nomenclature. Labels like Leucanthemum vulgare, and Menyanthes trifoliate, trip off their tongues as easily as the promises of a politician.

In spite of their somewhat intimidating understanding of things botanical, I have to acknowledge the petal pushers amazing tolerance of my many floral faux pas. Fewer than five of them choked or teared up when I indicated how surprised I was to learn that cinquefoil was a common woodland flower and a not some kind of foreign food wrap.

On one occasion, when the group was animatedly puzzling over some purple floweret and consulting their botanical bibles, I was prompted to offer an opinion:

“I think I recognise this little chap,” I offered. “Seen it before somewhere. Patagonia perhaps (I have never been to Patagonia, but it sounded more exotic than Squamish, or Boston Bar.) “Gladiola,” I said boldly.

There was a momentary silence followed by polite spluttering, some wrinkling of noses before someone spoke:

“Ah, em, well, gladiola certainly is found in this area, but not in the alpine. Lower down certainly – in the flower department of the supermarket in Hope, but nice try anyway.”

Semi-encouraged, I proceeded to draw attention to a coquettish little number nodding by the trailside. “Look at this folks: a lovely sprig of phlebitis. Would any one like their picture taken with it?”

No one did, and as I bent to photograph the little plant, I heard the group stampeding away to peer at some more exotic species that had caught their eye.

From this point on, I resolved to keep my finds to myself and avoid possible embarrassment. On one occasion, when the group was conferring away in Latin or Serbo-Moldavian, I was tempted to call them over to view a delicate bouquet of quesadilla. I decided not to. It might have been euphoria, after all. As I’ve said, I’m no expert.

A little later, I again considered breaking into the proceedings to have them view a splendid display of nun’s hamstrings (Sinewus catholicus), but was hesitant to do so, lest I may have got it confused with European nosewart (Beakus bulbous), a non-native species introduced, as far as I recall, by seed-dropping birds, or British soccer hooligans.

Back at the parking lot, we shared our species lists for the day. There was surprise all around when I revealed mine: Ninety-two different flowers and plants. Nobody else came close.

It was a quiet trip home.



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