Jack-in-the-pulpit and other wildflowers of our youth

"Jack-in-the-pulpit is named because it resembles a preacher standing in a pulpit," Nature Conservancy of Canada tells us. Perhaps that is why, as the daughter of a minister – and why my Aunt Marion, as the sister of one – have a special affection for it. (Photo from Design Maze)

“Jack-in-the-pulpit is named because it resembles a preacher standing in a pulpit,” the Nature Conservancy of Canada tells us. Perhaps that is why I, as the daughter of a minister, and my Aunt Marion, as the sister of one, have a special affection for it. (Photo from Design Maze)

The other day I was having one of my regular phone conversations with my remarkable Aunt Marion, who holds the fort up on the Sedgwick family farm near Gelert, in Haliburton County. Aunt Marion is (as she would be the first to admit) no spring chicken, but that doesn’t stop her from tromping all over the countryside on a daily basis checking out everything from how many of the cattle can be spotted at any given time to what wild plants and flowers might be growing.

She was quite excited to report during this most recent conversation that she had discovered a Jack-in-the-pulpit. “First one I’ve seen in decades!” she announced. (And I believe her. You used to see them all over the place, and now – you don’t.)

Well, did that take me back. Back to classrooms (I want to say Grade 1, though I could be wrong; perhaps my Grade 1 teacher will correct me) at Madoc Township Public School, when I was growing up at the Manse in Queensborough. In those long-ago classrooms we learned about wildflowers (not to mention pistils and stamens, though perhaps that came a little later than Grade 1, given that they have to do with reproduction). I think I remember colouring in (with crayons, I mean) pictures of Jack-in-the-pulpits and trilliums (red and white) and so on: the beautiful wildflowers that dotted our very rural area and that were so familiar to us kids.

It reminds me of Shakespeare, truth be told. Shakespeare’s works contain hundreds of unmistakeable and sometimes very local and idiosyncratic references to the flora and fauna of his native Warwickshire (which gives the lie to all those kooky theories that someone other than “the Stratfordian” wrote Shakespeare’s plays). He grew up among the fields and the woods and the riverbanks of that county, and his work reflects his knowledge of what he found there. So too the collective knowledge of us kids at Madoc Township Public School – none of us future Shakespeares, by the way – included the local wildflowers. They were important in our lives.

I kind of think you have to love the wildflower known, anachronistically, as Dutchman's Breeches. (It's been a long time since anyone from the Netherlands wore pants like that, I'm thinking.) But they're so cute! (Photo from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, bbg.org)

I kind of think you have to love the wildflower known, anachronistically and non-politically correctly, as Dutchman’s Breeches. (It’s been a long time since a male from the Netherlands wore pants like that, I imagine.) But they’re so cute! (Photo from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, bbg.org)

What do you think are the chances that schoolchildren today are taught about wildflowers like Jack-in-the-pulpits or trilliums or (my personal favourite, if only for the anachronistic name) Dutchman’s Breeches?

I’m thinking slim to none. Which is just too bad.

16 thoughts on “Jack-in-the-pulpit and other wildflowers of our youth

  1. Come to Pitts’ Landing and we can show you jack-in-the-pulpits growing beside our cottage, where your Grade one teacher transplanted them from the woods many years ago..GnG

    • Glad to see that Gayle and Grant are keeping an eye on your fascinating blog.
      Regards to all
      Gerry and Bev

      • Gayle and Grant have been wonderful in their support of our Manse adventure, Gerry and Bev! And how great it has been to reconnect with these old friends from Hazzard’s and Eldorado churches, and my Grade 1 teacher to boot!

    • We would love to, and will do so, Grant and Gayle. Because like my Aunt Marion, I haven’t seen a real live jack-in-the-pulpit in many a decade – probably since my childhood at the Manse.

  2. I particularly love those yellow flowers that appear in the middle of lawns and which eventually develop fluffy white halos or globes.

    • Oh Graham, you are such a card… Hey, if you love those yellow flowers so much, feel free to visit my mum and dig some up from her yard for transplantation here in Queensborough at your spread! She’d thank you heartily for it.

  3. It is nice to be reminded of the many lovely wild flowers that grow in our woods. I remember many fond memories walking back the lane on my parents farm and my dad stopping to show me a special flower once we reached the forest. I loved the ladies slippers.. 🙂 I was never aloud to pick them but was always told they are mother natures table flowers. My dad always told me tales as we walked back to the sugar bush and the virgin forest as he called it. We use to play amongst the wild flowers in the old sap house and carved our initials on a special tree that was bigger around that you could not see the other person standing behind it. I still recall dad pulling out his jack knife and letting me mark my tree. And each time I go home I find my tree. It’s funny how a flower can bring you back to a time once forgotten. Now as my husband asks me what are those white flowers so called Dutchman britches.. I have to laugh and explain they are flowers that resemble is ancestors clothing.. lol Thank you Katherine for the memory. 🙂

    • What wonderful memories, Marykay! Ladyslippers, yes – I had forgotten about them. And I love the image of the tree so big that you couldn’t see the person on the other side of it. And that you always go back and find “your” tree.

      But the best is Jos’s reaction to Dutchman’s breeches! Geez, I should have thought to ask him about that!

    • Now that I’m going to have to ask you about sometime. I remember other kids that I grew up with talking about how delicious puffballs were, but I have to admit I’ve never tasted one – or even seen one! (Well, I probably have, but didn’t know what it was.) You cut them up and fry them in butter, don’t you? Or do you? On the puffball front I am clearly clueless, and I’d like to know more.

      • Well a puffball is very special. I have only seen 3 in my lifetime. They grow close to a fence line and in the early fall I think. They are very much like a mushroom. About the size of a soccer ball. And they must be very white and firm. Dad says if not they are not good to eat and have worms. And yes you would pluck them from the bottom like a stem. Then my mom would wash and slice them put them in a egg and butter, salt and pepper, milk batter and fry them like a pancake. Turn them so they are lightly browned. They really are like a mushroom. So if anyone finds one good luck. They are a rare.. 🙂 Bon apatite!

      • Well, I usually get one or two each year in the front lawn. Ours grow to a diameter of about 15 cm. While I don’t eat them myself, it does irk me when someone swipes them without asking.

      • Perhaps you can show me the next time one appears, Graham (before it gets swiped). Then I’ll at least know what a puffball looks like, which would be excellent.

      • Good information, Marykay! And I believe you when you say they are yummy. One of the best meals I ever had in my life was freshly gathered wild mushrooms sauteed in butter and served on toast. (Mind you, the collecting happened under the guidance of a mushroom expert – it’s not something I’d ever try on my own!)

  4. I saw my first Jack in the Pulpit a few weeks ago and I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. I’ll tag you on my facebook page so you can see it

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