Thoreau on Lilies

Joe Shaw
Wed, 11 Jul 2007 21:18:48 PDT
Hi Gang,

Sometimes as I read older works, I feel a tinge of jealousy.  This passage 
by Henry David Thoreau exudes an innocence and child-like joy in lilies he 

<Begin Block Quotes>
We soon after saw a splendid yellow lily (Lilium canadense) by the shore, 
which I plucked. It was six feet high, and had twelve flowers, in two 
whorls, forming a pyramid, such as I have seen in Concord. We afterward saw 
many more thus tall along this stream, and also still more numerous on the 
East Branch, and, on the latter, one which I thought approached yet nearer 
to the Lilium superbum. The Indian asked what we called it, and said that 
the "loots" (roots) were good for soup, that is, to cook with meat, to 
thicken it, taking the place of flower. They get them in the fall. I dug 
some, and found a mass of bulbs pretty deep in the earth, two inches in 
diameter, looking, and even tasting, somewhat like raw green corn on the 
<End Block Quotes>

But there is more than envy in me; I am a bit sad too, sad that I could not 
see the world Thoreau saw, or what others see every day in their far off 
places and at earlier times.  But, mostly I'm happy that I the Web brings me 
Thoreau's words for free.  And in truth I'd never trade my life for his: 
I'm happy to have air conditioning, indoor plumbing, modern medicines, and a 
ring sideseat as the genomes of the world are being interpreted. offers good search capabilities for many books.  You can look 
up bulbs, or lilies, or flowers, or wildflowers, or herb gardens.  Indeed 
Thoreau did grow some bulbs, chives and onions for sure.  He said, 
"Cultivate poverty like a garden herb, like sage."

I think I'll ignore this last advice and concentrate on some things I like 
better than poverty: crinums, opuntias.

For all you taxonomists out there, I think I've documented the occurrence of 
an undescribed Opuntia taxon, hiding in the deserts of New Mexico.  However, 
not being a taxonomis, and not knowning the possible things that it could 
be, I'm just happy to take photos and hope someone else can describe it. 
Also, it is always possible that the taxon has been described somewhere in 
the fractured and hard-to-find Opuntia literature.  For my part, the only 
way I know how to find out what it is invovles a trip to Big Bend area of 
Texas, to view related species and see if they are obviously the same, maybe 
the same, or mayb not the same.  I love road trips.

I think bulbs and geophytes suffer from some of the same afflictions as do 
Opuntia species.  Opuntia tend to look alike for most people, even three or 
four distinct species on Galveston Island are generally regarded as all the 
same.  The same goes for rain liiies; Texas has two white rainlilies that 
overlap in distribution.  If they are noticied at all many people just call 
them the white Texas rainlily.


Conroe TX
LINK:  Unknown and (apparently) Undescribed Opuntia taxon in New Mexico…

LINK:  Zephyranthes drummondii…

LINK:  Zephyranthes chlorosolen…

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