Do You Know Where You Are?

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    No, alas, this is not in my yard.  Not yet anyway.  It’s called Bird’s Foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus to a botanist) and is a member of the huge Pea or Bean (Fabaceae or Leguminosae) family.  The photo was taken along the interstate at the end of our ravine.

  The name Trefoil comes from Latin via Old French meaning three leaves -like the clover to which it is related.*  It has just come into bloom now and will remain so for most of the summer. This bright delight is not native to North America having been imported from Europe for forage.

  According to Iowa State University Extension, it was only first planted in 1938 but now covers more than 500,000 acres in Iowa alone.  Farmers like it because it is hardy once established; will withstand close grazing; is highly nutritious; and non-bloating.  It has provided daily weight gains in cattle exceeding a 30% premium over fertilized grass.

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  Laterly the plant became popular with road crews whose mission was/is to stabilize roadside growth.  It creates a dense low mat, will crowd out plants with a yearn to grow tall, blooms low and so can be cropped close.  If you live around here and are not agoraphobic, it will doubtless and frequently play a role in your field of view.

  Not surprisingly, citing almost exactly the same factors listed above, the philistines about consider it invasive, a weed, and incredibly difficult to control. “An ecological threat”  Control by conflagration not only doesn’t work, but instead increases seed germination!  Ha!

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  There is a new book out** that explores the chasm between us and our setting – the green movement notwithstanding.  The author writes of the seafarers of Puluwat in the South Pacific who can navigate by means of subtle swell patterns.  And of the Inuit who do the same with wind.  The Bedouin the stars.  Here in suburbia some use a GPS to cross town.  What’s up with the disconnect?  Is there a cost?

   The Trefoil’s beautiful, isn’t it?  Shades of yellow pea-like flowers with clover-like leaves.  The seed pod arrangement sort of resembles a bird’s foot hence the name. birds foot seed pod Doesn’t the fact that a lowly weed can be so gorgeous and have such a wonderful back-story give you pause?  Makes me think of Blake: 

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour. 

*The word also serves as a term in Gothic architecture referring to a manner of ornamentation by foliation or cusping. Look for it in church window-lights. 


**The book is You Are Here Why We Can Find Our Way to the Moon but Get Lost in the Mall, by Collin Ellard.  It was reviewed in the NYTBR Sunday July 12 by Jonah Lehrer.

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