“Pale Star That By the Lochs of Galloway…”

Pale star that by the lochs of Galloway,
In wet green places ‘twixt the depth and height
Dost keep thine hour while Autumn ebbs away,
When now the moors have doffed the heather bright,
Grass of Parnassus, flower of my delight,
How gladly with the unpermitted bay–
Garlands not mine, and leaves that not decay–
How gladly would I twine thee if I might!

The bays are out of reach! But far below
The peaks forbidden of the Muses’ Hill,
Grass of Parnassus, thy returning snow
Between September and October chill
Doth speak to me of Autumns long ago,
And these kind faces that are with me still.

What Edward Lang commemorates in poetic verse, Nature crowns in mystic blossoms.

Edward Lang was a nineteenth century poet that spoke of the Autumn white blossom that graced the hills of Ireland – the Grass-of=Parnassus – an endangered wildflower found in Georgia northward and across the world. The five white veined petals are emboldened by the dark green glossy foliage that marks a rare find always to be remembered. As Lang states, the wildflower blooms in Fall “in wet green places”. Gradually, the wet, green bogs are giving way to drainage control, agriculture, and residential development and the Grass-of-Parnassus is becoming no more.

These Parnassus blooms were found in northern Indiana in a protected state park.

Parnassia grandifolia is one of a half dozen species that grow in the US – most are northern plants but P. grandiflora can be found in several boggy locations in Georgia. Largeleaf grass-of-Parnassus is a rare and wonderful wildflower. Every part of it is distinctively striking. Its blooms are approximately 1-2″ across and consist of five bright white petals, all with greenish-yellow netting. They surround a relatively large ovary that is also greenish-yellow. Blooms are cupped by white “netted” sepals that are most noticeable once the petals have fallen off. The flower bears 5 fertile stamens and 5 sets of infertile stamens (staminodes).

The devil is in the details.

The flower is unique in that, when it opens, the stamens are bent inward over the pistil to prevent self-fertilization. One at a time, each stamen unfolds, releasing its bright orange pollen away from its pistil. Once all the stamens have unfolded, the pistil is now ready to be pollinated by flies and bees who’ve picked up the pollen from other nearby Parnassus specimens. This species must be cross-pollinated in order to produce seed. Flower stalks can be 2–3 feet tall and erect, bearing a solitary bloom. Basal leaves are large, slightly succulent and rounded to kidney-shaped, but are usually obscured by the grasses among which the plant commonly grows. Note that Grass-of-Parnassus is not a grass or even distantly related to grasses.

The Fringed Grass-of-Parnassus is a western US species and not found in Georgia – still beautiful though!
Find one and you might find a colony.
If I were a cat, eight of my nine lives would be spent in search of wildflowers!

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