The button bushes (Cephalanthus occidentalis) that grow along our little creek are in full bloom just now, their round, highly symmetrical blossoms delighting the bees, hummingbirds and butterflies--especially the giant swallowtails, no doubt graduated from the larvae that stripped my dill and fennel this spring.
The button bush is one of our native Hill Country plants that we modern humans, so oblivious to the real earth around us, don't fully appreciate. The foliage, stems, and roots contain two toxic glycosides, so those who worry about things like this label it "poisonous." It is, of course. But the butterflies and hummingbirds don't know this, and the native people of the Southwest and Southeast understood how to turn its toxicity into an antidote. The glycosides that we consider poisonous stimulate the digestive system, so they used it--carefully--to treat various stomach, intestinal, and urinary ailments. Different tribes used the plant in different forms: decoctions of the root and stems; teas of the stems and foliage; and poultices of the bark and leaves. The bark was also chewed to relieve toothache. And in its natural habitat, along streams and in wetlands, the roots help to resist erosion and provide habitat for many aquatic animals.
But it's not only an important member of the plant/animal community that makes up our small corner of the Texas Hill Country, it's lovely. And after a week of unrelenting ugliness in Cleveland, I need to lose myself in something utterly beautiful--fitting and useful, yes, but beautiful most of all, and innocent of the terrible wounds we humans inflict on others of our species.
Reading note. I am one of those who has no trouble imagining the sentient lives of trees, of their leaves in some fashion communicating, or of the massy trunks and heavy branches knowing it is I who have come, as I always come, each morning, to walk beneath them, glad to be alive and glad to be there.--Mary Oliver, "Sister Turtle," in Winter Hours