A week ago, we were immobilized in the freezing clutches of a four-day ice storm, during which we received every form of precipitation imaginable. Naturally, now that the sun has come out and we’re finally enjoying milder temperatures, I have been laid low by a vicious virus, making me a miserable and wilted little gillyflower indeed. To offset all that dreary drizzle, ghastly graupel, stinging sleet – and foul phlegm – here is a collection of images from a kinder version of Mother Nature, in the most serene shades of blue and white, plus some fun facts!
Clockwise from top left:
Forget-me-not (Myosotis scorpioides): The Greek name for this plant means “mouse’s ears” (for the leaf). Folk legends tell us that, when all the plants were being named and assigned their colours, a tiny flower whispered, “Forget me not!” and so it was named. The only colour left was a bit of pale blue, but the little plant happily assumed such a demure shade. In the Victorian Language of Flowers, the forget-me-not symbolizes faithfulness and enduring love, and it is often used to remember those who have died in war. ∗∗∗ Let us not forget those who were killed or injured in the senseless and tragic van attack in Toronto yesterday. ∗∗∗
Blue Jay feather: Did you know that blue birds aren’t actually blue? The colour we see isn’t the result of pigmentation but a phenomenon called structural colour. The feathers of “blue” birds are colourless, three-dimensional structures of keratin protein interspersed with air pockets. Light waves enter the feather and bounce back at different rates, colliding with each other. Red and yellow waves cancel each other out, but blue waves are reinforced and amplified, and this is the colour, often iridescent, that is reflected back to our eyes. The different shapes and sizes of keratin and air pockets produce the varying shades of blue that we see.
Northern Blue (Plebejus idas): Butterfly scales (and beetle shells) also use structural colour to produce blue, like the upper surface of this female Northern Blue butterfly’s wings. This species and its cousins (Spring and Summer Azures) tend to keep their wings closed when at rest, showing only greyish-white undersides, so it was a treat to see this cooperative specimen’s gorgeous colour.
Striped Squill (Puschkinia scilloides): A spring-flowering garden plant here, the Striped Squill is native to Western Asia (Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Iran) and the Caucasus. This perennial bulb was discovered in 1805 by a Russian biologist, Count Mussim-Puschkin. It is low-growing, naturalizes well and has a clean, spicy fragrance.
Larger Blue Flag iris (Iris versicolor): We were delighted to find this stunning iris growing at the lake’s edge at the cottage a few years ago, perhaps washed ashore by the waves or deposited by a bird or other animal.
Bluebead Lily (Clintonia borealis): Also known as Yellow Clintonia, this woodland plant produces glossy, dark blue fruits after the yellow flowers fade. Our 2.4 hectare island is home to an abundant colony, along with quite a few other native (and several non-native) North American wildflower species.
Violet Cort (Cortinarius iodes): In addition to documenting all the ferns, trees and wildflowers found on the island, we also keep a record of any fungi we can identify. I was excited to find this blue-violet species in a couple of locations about 10 years ago. The mushroom is blue-purple with a white stem when young and fades to pale lavender with cream spots as it ages.
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata): Reviled by some for its loud, raucous call and bold behaviour (in southern U.S. folklore, it was thought to be the Devil’s servant), the blue jay is a member of the crow family, known for its sassy intelligence. Like squirrels, blue jays will often eat shelled or broken peanuts on the spot but will bury intact shells, which keep safely over winter. (Check your window boxes and flower pots in the spring for such food caches.) They are also curious thieves attracted to brightly-coloured or shiny objects. Blue jays can mimic the calls of hawks and even human speech; another vocalization, a squeaky “wheedle-eedle” used to communicate with each other, always sounds to me like a rusty gate. And, of course, my hometown major league baseball team is named for them, so what’s not to love? Go, Jays!