Guarding The Phlox

The phlox was so gorgeous this year that I not only pointed it out to guests but photographed it time after time.

I do wish more than one blossom grew at the end of each tall stalk but, OK, if that’s what it does, I can accept it.

Last night I looked up phlox on various websites and was amazed how costly they can be. For one: five dollars to over ten. When did I purchase the ones that give me such enjoyment?

I know, I do remember now, sadly, weeding countless phlox believing they were just goldenrods ready to pop. Honestly, I don’t know when — or why — I realized these were valuable, certainly worth keeping.

Today, however, I weeded around — yes, around (the “Ritz weed” won’t quit) and saw I had many more plants than I had counted even just last week.

More? From five dollar plantings? It seemed quite unlikely.

Oh. Do you already know what I was just about to learn?

There are also varieties of phlox that are counted as wildflowers, mine among them. Newcomb has filled a full page with them (while I’ve never record a single one — until now).

There’s Moss Phlox that escaped from New England and a Cliff or Sand one that’s happier in dry areas of the Middle West. These prefer lying low while mine, like the others, grow upright. My goodness! There’s Downy and Creeping and Wild Blue and Smooth and Mountain and Meadow. The last is also called Wild Sweet William which I have photographed and marked — not even remotely the same. These can vary (depending on the plant) from magenta to violet, purple or even blue. All could be around here. The book, however, says they are rarely white. “It’s In the Book!” (Remember that?) Well, mine are white. All with five regular parts with opposite leaves.

The Audubon Guide has fewer pictures while only one of theirs grows in a showy cluster: Garden Phlox. They will grant it can be white as well as pink or lavender. Mine definitely flowers in a showy clump at the end of a tall stem. Two to six feet sounds about right. Flowering July through October — wonderful! If that’s mine, I have many more weeks to look forward to this showy dazzler. It’s found in thickets, open woods and, obviously, any place it’s happy. We could probably find it at home from Nova Scotia all the way down to Georgia, west into Oklahoma and back up through Nebraska and Minnesota. Found anywhere else, it has probably escaped cultivation. Escape on!

Audubon saved me a trip to Wikipedia by telling me that it has been widely used as a medicinal herb. An extract from the leaf is a good laxative and can also be used for treating boils. (I’ll have to think about that one.) Wild blue phlox tea (can’t you picture that on a menu?) uses the entire plant to treat stomach and intestinal problems like indigestion or even just stomach aches. Tea made from the leaves is “thought” to purify blood and treat skin conditions like boils or eczema. Boil and then cool the water to use as an eyewash. The author from Heritage Garden obviously isn’t keen on trying these for himself.

These are actually a part of the mustard family which includes radishes, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and mustard. Does that mean we can eat them then? I’ll forgive Peterson’s Edible Wild Plants for not including them though I did read both the plants and the flowers are edible. Fairly bitter, says one source, while another claims they have a slightly spicy taste which goes well in fruit salads.

Butterflies dote on them too.

I’m betting they aren’t a culinary delight in Europe though, understandably, the flowers were collected by early European explorers and taken back with them. It is now extremely popular throughout Europe because of the ease with which it can be grown and appreciated for the colorful blossoms.

“In Victorian England, young women frequently carried bouquets of flowers, which included garden phlox varieties. The flower symbolizes a proposal of love and a wish of pleasant dreams. Phlox translates to “flame” in Greek, where the long cluster of flowers represent the shape of a tongue of fire.”

Too rounded to look much like a tongue of fire to me but that’s all right, too.

Call them what you will. I’m just tickled pink they like it here under my front windows.

But if you don’t mind, I’ll skip the salad.

Susan Crossett has lived outside Cassadaga for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. Her Reason for Being was published in 2008 with Love in Three Acts following in 2014. Both novels are now available at Lakewood’s Off the Beaten Path bookstore. Information on all the Musings, her books and the author may be found at Susancrossett.com.

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