Friday, May 27, 2011

Rhodora Roaring And Bend Over Betty

     The Rhodora is roaring on the roadsides, and oh - a lovely thing she is! I grew up calling this a Swamp azalea, because that's what my mother called it. Swamp azaleas are actually a totally different critter, more common in the south than the flower you see here. Swamp azaleas are usually white, though they can be pink, but not this magenta color. The outrageous magenta flowers seen in ditches, swamps and bogs in Maine are Rhodora, correctly Rhododendron canadensis. I captured her first blossom, the start of her hollering, on May 22nd. The Service Berry trees are passing as the Rhodora begins to bloom. Rhodora blooms before the leaves come out, making the flowers more obvious. One or two blossoms might not be too impressive, but the little shrubs boast hundreds of flowers making them en masse, very showy. Once the flowers go by, the shrub all but disappears into obscurity as the narrow, bluish green leaves blend in with surrounding vegetation.
     In the nineteen hundreds, taxonomists thought this was a distinct genus from the rhododendrons because of the flower shape, thus the name Rhodora. The blossoms have three lobes, rather than five like other rhodos. The floral structure is different, too. The flowers have no true tube or throat which would hold all the various plant parts together. Instead, the flower is split almost from its base with an upper three-lobed lip and two lateral strap-shaped petals. The stamens, styles and stigmas are large and protrude, exceeding the length of the petals. In the two photos below, the differences are clear between the Rhodora on the top and the rhododendron on the bottom.
     Eventually, the taxonomists changed their minds about where Rhodora belonged and included her in the genus of rhododendrons, but her name stuck, nonetheless. As with birding, just about the time you think you've got a name straight, the rules of play also change in botany. Rhodora is not endangered. The outrageous magenta blooms can be seen on the roadsides from Pennsylvania to northern New Jersey, northward to Ontario, Quebec and the Canadian Maritimes. The ostentateous magenta isn't eveyone's favorite but, in the Northeast we forgive and love Rhodora's tastelessness as a sure sign that summer is about to erupt.

Rhododendron canadensis, commonly  known as Rhodora on the top. A cultivated rhododendron on the bottom.
Range map for Rhododendron canadensis

Ralph Waldo Emmerson thought Rhodora was swell, too. I've never been a big Ralph fan, but I have his famous poem for you here.
The Rhodora
On being asked, whence is the flower.

In May, when sea-winds pierced our solitudes,
I found the fresh Rhodora in the woods,
Spreading its leafless blooms in a damp nook,
To please the desert and the sluggish brook.
The purple petals fallen in the pool
Made the black water with their beauty gay;
Here might the red-bird come his plumes to cool,
And court the flower that cheapens his array.
Rhodora! if the sages ask thee why
This charm is wasted on the earth and sky,
Tell them, dear, that, if eyes were made for seeing,
Then beauty is its own excuse for Being;
Why thou wert there, O rival of the rose!
I never thought to ask; I never knew;
But in my simple ignorance suppose
The self-same power that brought me there, brought you.

     Another garish roadside presence in spring and summer in Maine is the Bend Over Betty lawn ornament, or yard art. Here, we pronounce that "yah-ah-t." She's surely no beauty, but she does have presence. Once in a while, she is accompanied by her partner, Bend Over Bob. He is also seen only from the rear and with his boxers showing. Like the color magenta, their beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Once the novelty has worn off, they are often seen listing sideways with the weeds growing up around them. Like a derelict Bend Over Betty, I too can be found hip deep in the weeds of late. As the Rhodora blooms gardening season is flourishing, too. So, I've been lost to Weeding For Dollars and have not written for a month.
     Numerous of you have sent e mail inquiring as to where I've been. "Have you gone underground," I was asked. No, but close to it, bent over with my head to the dirt, hands moving through the earth, pulling, teasing and chopping at the unwelcome, a professional Bend Over Betty. It has moved me that I have been missed. There could hardly be a worse insult than for my absence to have gone unnoticed. Rest assured that I am out here, like a tennis ball your dog lost in the tall grass.
Yours truly, Bend Over Betty

Better not to ask about the rabbit and the donkey.

Thanks for some of the information to: 

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Johnson, Charles W. 1985. Bogs of the Northeast. University of New England Press, Hanover, New Hampshire and London, England.

Appalachian Mountain Club. 1964. AMC Field Guide to Mountain Flowers of New England. Appalachian Mountain Club, Boston, Massachusetts.

Slack, N. G. and A. W. Bell. 1995. Field Guide to the New England Alpine Summits. Appalachian Mountain Club, Boston, Massachusetts.

Wallner, J. and M. J. DiGregorio. 1997. New England’s Mountain Flowers: A High Country Heritage. In cooperation with the New England Wild Flower Society. Mountain Press Publishing Company, Missoula, Montana.

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  1. Dear Robin. I knew where you were and was quite sure what you were doing but rest assured you were missed. I was ever so glad to see you take a minute to share a piece of your life with your fans. Also, overjoyed that you included one of my favorite poems. May summer touch you, the ticks avoid you and blackfly season be short-lived. AnnieO

  2. Beautiful rhody's as we used to call them. They used to live here in the front yard until one winter, the snow and cold took their toll on them.

    The yahd aht made me LOL. The rabbit looks content!


  3. Beautiful colours. Good to hear you are keeping the neighbourhood gardens up to scratch.

  4. AnnieO, so sweet of you to miss me! And, I love your "Irish prayer." I'll be chanting that from this day forward as I weed. I'll need all the prayers and luck I can get before it's over where the bugs and sun burns are concerned. Thank you for your well wishes!

  5. I missed your lovely posts, but I'd been away for a while too. So good to see you back with this wonderful one. I love Rhododendrons which were just beginning to bloom when I left Delaware. Thank you for the poem - beautiful addition.
    May 27, 2011 12:30 PM

  6. FusunA, Thanks for that. I'm mulling over a poem of my own about Rhodora, inspired by our pal, Ralph. We'll see how that turns out!

  7. Bend Over Betty is hilarious. And the flowers, ooooh la-la! So beautiful.
    Indelible Ink
    May 27, 2011 12:59 PM

  8. Indelible, Thank you! I think BO Betty is pretty funny, too. My husband thinks she and her partner, Bob are disgusting! As my mother always said, "There is no accounting for taste."

  9. Glad you came up for air long enough to post the beautiful pictures and to educate us. I'm going to look a little more closely at the plants as we whiz by.
    Bend Over Betty is the reason I never, EVER wear anything but long pants when I'm doing damage control in the flower beds!
    Chrissie Pissie
    May 27, 2011 02:16 PM

  10. John, Thanks for the view and comment. Yep, the bunny looks content. Must be male. :)

  11. Funny, Chrissie! Maybe when my bathrobe gives out, I'll opt for splashy bloomers like Ms Betty. Whacha say?

  12. The Rhodora and Bend Over Betty are both new to me--I've never seen nor heard of either before your post. I'm glad I know about them now! Thanks for this!
    Felicia Lee

  13. Geez, Felicia! It never occurred to me that Bend Over Betty and Bob didn't live all across the country or elsewhere besides Maine! What a special place I live in, indeed. I should have more respect for them, eh? My husband thinks they are horrible!

  14. These are beautiful! You have a wonderful talent, I love these!


  15. Glad you're back - too hot for weeding this midday. I thought of you a lot as I worked through my garden this spring. I'm almost up to date - ahhh elusive state - and the key beds have all been wed and fed. Looks like some decent weather for the remaining tasks ahead next week.

    I'm really enjoying the camassia bridging that momentary gap between the late tulips and the poppies/irises. And, crambe cordifolia is back in my good graces with four flowering stalks this year. Enjoy - what a feast.


  16. Robin, I thought I'd dropped off your mailing list.
    Glad to see you again!

  17. I knew you were weeding for dollars, especially since the weeds flourish with all the rain we have had along the East coast. I love your opening blog photo of the cute dog acting as "Captain" for the kayak paddler! All of the photos are beautiful especially the swamp azaleas.

  18. A most enjoyable post filled with interesting information! Stunning Rhodora images! I was not familiar with these beautiful flowers but thanks to your wonderful blog post, I'm a bit more knowledgable. The colors are lovely. As for Bend Over Betty and her man, Bob ... thanks for the giggle.

  19. HG, thank you! I love the dog in kayak banner, too. And, indeed, the weeds are abundant. It will take bloomers like BO Betty's for me to be found.

  20. Thank you, Julie G. Bend Over B and her man, Bob send their thanks, too. :)

  21. Great. Rhodora is one of my favorite plants. I was just up at Brownfield Bog last week and realizing how much I missed seeing this in bloom when I lived down South. Spectacular. Have the same feeling about Alpine Azalea in White Mountains.

  22. Robin- The banner photo is GREAT!!! That dog looks like he is "barking" orders as to which direction! Stay cool in the weeds lady!
    Love,Ms. Boo

  23. Yes, Robin, you've been missed. But at least it's not been all work for you: going kayaking with your dog must be fun (I assume it's you and your dog) Those are beautiful flowers! Thanks for the info. I should be familiar with the Rhodora since according to your range map it's in my area, but I don't! I don't know how could miss it since I usually take photos too of the wild flowers that I see, not just the birds.