The cups and the compasses

When we first bought our land, six or seven years before we built the house on it, I envisioned filling our field with native wildflowers. Red has more conventional tastes, but she knows how to encourage both “proper” flower gardens and prairies of wildflowers, so we have developed both.

We visited a nursery that specializes in native plants. I fell in love with cup plants — tall flowers whose leaves are shaped to capture rain water for insects and animals to drink — and bought six small plants, which I planted all in a row near the south driveway into our big field. That was how this all started.

Fifteen-ish years later, they have seeded and spread to create a forest of yellow blossoms at the side of the road every midsummer.

Then there are the compass plants — so called because their leaves supposedly all point north. They gave me a delightful surprise. I bought two and waited for them to do something. For the first two or three years, they just grew their leafy green leaves and were kind of plain, but then one summer one sent a shoot spiraling 10 feet into the air and burst forth with yellow flowers of its own — an amazing slow-motion fireworks show. 

The next year the other one did the same, and we bought a couple more. But again, after a few years we have more than four compass plants making their fireworks way over my head.

I’m sure they serve their purpose for the insects and pollinators that depend on their July-August blooms, but for me their purpose is to add to the beauty and provide a small explosion of joy every summer. What better purpose could there be?

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