Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Wild Crossvine

Each spring here in the Shire,
a mysterious plant blooms high in one of our oak trees.
We had given little notice to the woody vine
that wrapped around the oak tree's trunk,
until one day we noticed a cluster of yellow and red flowers
co-mingled with the tender oak leaves.

What is that, we wondered.
Some kind of exotic swamp orchid? A trumpet vine, perhaps?
We didn't know, and didn't particularly feel the need to find out,
so we didn't. We referred to it as "our orchid."

For years we've been content to mark the flowers' arrival each spring
with a sense of wonder and satisfaction at the vine's reliable continuity,
but then to pay it scant attention
beyond sweeping up its spent blossoms from the deck.
For a long time, we considered ourselves to be the keepers
of a horticultural secret.
We did think our flowering vine was special and rare--
one of those gifts of nature
that not everyone has the good fortune to share.
Except last spring I happened by a vacant lot in Norfolk,
only to find our exotic rare flower smothering a rather sad chain-link fence
along a weedy, crumbling expanse of concrete.
So it turned out we weren't the only ones to experience it.
But it didn't diminish our sense of wonder
that it appeared in our oak tree every spring.

This year, I decided to find out its proper name.
It's not an orchid, not a trumpet vine.
It's a wild crossvine, bignonia capreolata,
said to have a rather pleasant chocolate scent.  
Although we've never climbed the 30 feet to find out for ourselves,
we did pick up a fallen blossom to see if we could discern an aroma of chocolate.
And they do smell like sweet chocolate--quite delicious, actually.
And the reason for its name?
When the vine is cut, there is supposed to be an image of a cross inside.

And there is a bit of folklore that goes with the wild crossvine.
According to the 18th century naturalist William Bartram,
the Cherokee Indians boiled the sweet-tasting crossvine and sassafrass root in beer
and drank it as a tonic (source: 
Sounds like an interesting beverage,
but I'll let knowing its name be the extent of my knowledge.

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