The paintbrush are splashing color across the green meadows this week, waiting for the arrival of the first hummingbirds. The "flower" of this lovely native plant is really a cluster of colored bracts, specialized stiff, hairy leaves that conceal a tiny flower. There's no convenient place to perch, so the flowers can only be fertilized by a hovering insect or bird. And because the true flowers are deep inside the attractive bracts, the pollinator needs a long "sipper." That's where the hummingbirds come in, with their long beaks and tongues.
Interesting paintbrush lore. The blossom cluster is said to be sweet, and were eaten by Indians. The Chippewa used a decoction of the plant as a shampoo, and other tribes used it to treat venereal diseases, rheumatism, kidney ailments, and even as a contraceptive. (For more on that subject, see this Quora post.) However, the plants concentrate selenium and can be toxic, especially when they're growing in alkaline soil. Another interesting note: the plant is hemiparasitic: that is, it has specialized roots called haustoria that invade a host (usually a grass) and suck out water and nutrients. (Mistletoe is another hemiparasitic plant, but it grows in trees, rather than in the ground.)
Book report. Last week, I reported that Loving Eleanor has been shortlisted for the Ben Franklin award. This week, the book has two more award nominations: the Lammy and Foreword Indies. Hick, ER, and I are hoping to bring home some gold, so keep your fingers crossed, please. The Ben Franklin will be announced early in April, the Lammy and Foreword Indies in June.
Meanwhile, the Dahlias are off to another 1930s adventure. This one takes place in October, 1934--the Darling economy is looking up, but too many people are too entranced with that huckster, Huey P. Long, who is promising to make "every man a king" and fix what ails the country. Sound familiar? The parallels between that period and this continue to astonish me. The signature plant for this book: clover. I'm still tinkering with the title.
Queen Anne's Lace goes off to my editor next week, along with proposals for more books in that series. We'll see how that works out. And The General's Women (my latest biographical/historical fiction) is out and doing very well. If your library doesn't have it, please ask them to get it for you. It's also available via online retailers and by special order, from your local bookstores.
Homestead report. The warmest winter in recorded Texas history is segueing into a warm spring. The perennial onions are budding already, nearly ready to bloom--in all my years of gardening, I've never seen them so early. But I have to confess that it's been a treat, especially compared to the cruel late-winter storm in the North and Northeast. The Girls are laying regularly; the peas need a replant (poor germination this spring: the seed?). But the potatoes are thriving and it's time to start thinking tomatoes. Especially lovely, Pecan Creek, which is running full and clear, between banks green with fern. Inhabiting this refuge is a special pleasure when the world beyond is as ugly and catastrophic as it is just now.
Reading note: To inhabit a place means literally to have made it a habit, to have made it the custom and ordinary practice of our lives, to have learned how to wear a place like a familiar garment, like the garments of sanctity that nuns once wore. The word habit, in its now-dim original form, meant "to own." We own places not because we possess the deeds to them, but because they have entered the continuum of our lives.--Paul Gruchow