28 March 2008

Our provincial flower: The Mayflower



Larry over at Growing Up suggested that maybe bloggers would like to take part in writing a meme about their provincial, state, or national flower. He kicked off the meme with a nice post about the provincial flower of Saskatchewan (that's one of our Canadian provinces, for those of you from other parts of the world). Since it's snowing here yet again, I thought this would be a perfect project to embark upon, and hope you'll all join in too.


Nova Scotia's provincial flower is the trailing arbutus, more commonly known as the mayflower. A member of the Ericaceae or heath family, its botanical name is Epigaea repens, and it's related to such popular plants as blueberries and cranberries (Vaccinium, various species), rhododendrons and azaleas (Rhododendron), Bog rosemary (Andromeda), and wintergreen (Gaultheria), not to mention of course heaths and heathers (Erica & Calluna). Ericaceous plants like acid soil, which is commonly found throughout much of Atlantic Canada, and certainly here in Nova Scotia. Mayflower is a subshrub, creeping along the ground in woodlands, (both conifer and hardwood), with woody stems and leathery, hairy leaves. Apparently it ranges as far west as Saskatchewan, and as far south as Florida, although it is sparse in many regions and listed as endangered or vulnerable in several American states.


Although we call it mayflower, it usually starts blooming in April here in NS, although bloom time can vary from one county to the next. I have seen it as early as March on the south shore, but around my county it's usually mid-to-late April before the flowers come along. Flower colour can be white, tinged with pink, or very pink, and the flowers are edible too. The fragrance is wonderful, sweet without being cloying, and it too varies in strength, possibly connected to the type of soil where it's found growing.


Despite being related to all those ericaceous cousins mentioned above that we do use in gardening, the slow-growing trailing arbutus doesn't like to be transplanted, and I do not know of anyone who has it growing in their garden, nor any reputable nursery around here that offers it for sale. I've never tried it, because though our soil is acidic, it's also clayey and mayflowers demand humus-rich sandy soil that drains well, preferably around oaks or pines. To me it's a plant to enjoy where it's growing in its natural habitat, to visit and smell and photograph and cherish--and leave ALONE. At one time, mayflowers came close to being exterminated in the New England states because greedy street vendors would tear the plants up to sell posies of flowers. The mayflower is also the state flower of Massachusetts, where apparently it's illegal to pick the plants. We may need to enact similar legislation here, because I've seen people selling bundles of mayflowers in the spring at farmers' markets, and this means that wild patches are being seriously damaged.

So there's a little look at a darling of spring woodlands, Nova Scotia's provincial flower, the trailing arbutus or mayflower. Maybe within a month or so I'll have photos from this year's flowers. As I've said before...hope springs eternal, even though it's snowing again.

24 comments:

  1. In the Anne of Green Gables books it was a tradition for Anne's oldest son Jem to bring her bunch of Mayflowers every spring. I always wondered what they looked like. Such an interesting post.

    Doesn't it seem that the most gorgeous native plants are always the ones that are hardest to put in the garden? Not that I would remove them from the wild, but there are many I like here that are so picky about their growing conditions that they'll probably never be propogated and sold by nurseries.

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  2. Interesting post Jodi and I popped over to Growing Up to see that one too. I'm putting together a post about Ontario's provincial flower and will post it in a day or two.

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  3. I, too, have seen people selling small nosegays of mayflowers, at outrageous prices. In Walton, just off a rutted and seldom used back road is a natural spring, dubbed Mayflower Spring by my small group of childhood friends. The spring is surrounded by moss and "sitting stones" and all but blocked from the sun by huge trees. Every spring we'd all pack a lunch and make the trek through the woods (hoping someone remembered the way to the spring!) for a picnic at this hideaway place. I believe we did pick enough mayflowers to take small bouquets to our Moms, but they were abundant. It wasn't unusual to find them blooming under patches of snow. If I can remember how to get there (I'm sure our path is overgrown), I'll make the trip in a few weeks and try to get some pics of what seemed like an enchanted wood all those years ago. :)

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  4. My state flower is the peony. It's not a native plant in Indiana, or the United States for that matter. But, it seems everyone plants one so that's what they picked, I guess, when it came to pick. Nice idea for a meme, I'll have to post something soon.

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

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  5. what a very interesting bit of factoids about the Mayflower that I never knew before.

    Diane

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  6. Hi Jodi, I have set up a "Gallery of Official Flowers", it is the first item under my links section, yours has been added, well done, by the way

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  7. Jodi, what an interesting post. I don't think we have any mayflower here...but would enjoy it. It is amazing to me that we(me) take so many of our wildfowers for granted. If only we would take the time to really see them!

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  8. Stop by The Gardener Side and see my post about the trillium.

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  9. Great idea for a meme! (We had six inches of snow here in New Hampshire yesterday. I am hopeful that it will melt fast in 40 degree weather today. Chin up!) I've known our state flower as the lilac, but just read online that it is the pink ladyslipper. I need to do more research and blog on the correct one. Love your web site!

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  10. As Carol said our state flower is the peony. I can remember the older folks I know talking about the "peony farm" in the small town where I grew up shipping peonies all over the US. Too bad that farm is no longer there. I would love to see acres of peonies blooming.

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  11. Isn't it interesting the the love of a flower can actually be the cause of its' demise! I'm sorry to hear it is snowing again!

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  12. The white ones almost look like a little bugle. Reminds me of the Carolina Jessamine vine that seems native here. It crops up everywhere, anyway. Also, just wanted you to know I changed the dots (on my blog) for you, as I respect your opinion, and I was a little worred about their brightness too. So thanks for the advice. It's always appreciated with me.
    Brenda

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  13. The white ones almost look like a little bugle. Reminds me of the Carolina Jessamine vine that seems native here. It crops up everywhere, anyway. Also, just wanted you to know I changed the dots (on my blog) for you, as I respect your opinion, and I was a little worred about their brightness too. So thanks for the advice. It's always appreciated with me.
    Brenda

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  14. As the Mayflower is ericaceous, it is unfamiliar to me. I think Nova Scotia made a good choice. I hope you do get legislation enacted to protect them. Fortunately for Illinois, the State's wildflower needs no protection - it's the blue Violet, which many consider a weed!

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  15. Jodi .. I remember that wonderful scent. When I was a child living in Louisbourg .. it was amazing to be able to grow up by the woods and find treasures such as this.
    Joy

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  16. Texas's state flower is the Texas bluebonnet, which are already in bloom here in Austin. I hope one of the other Austin bloggers will post about them because I'm a little busy getting ready for the Spring Fling. But here's a post from last spring.

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  17. I Florida the state flower is the Orange Blossom (boring) This has more to do with commercial reasons and not about native flowers.

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  18. What a wonderful flower with all those variations in color. They seem so low growing without long stems, how to they ever bunch them to sell?

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  19. A beautiful flower - but quite unlike the mayflower we have here in the UK!
    Good to read about it
    TopVeg

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  20. every spring my late husband would come home from work with his lunch box full of may flowers for me

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  21. Every spring for as long as I can remember I have picked a bouquet of Mayflowers for my beautiful Mum! She passed away last week and that is what prompted me to look up facts about the Mayflower. I wanted to plant some on her grave. Thank-you for all the information. Now that I know how fragile they are I will be happy to leave them to grow and bloom. My Mum's joy was her garden and all the beauty of God's design's in nature. Leaving our favorite flower to flourish would be her wish too.

    Michele

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  22. I just found a patch of mayflowers on a bank behind our house. We had a subdivision move in about 600 feet behind our house so the forest is gone where you would find several patches of mayflowers. (So it was a great find!)

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  23. Dawson M Lower Sackville10 June, 2013 16:10

    Hi Jodi;
    Do any of the NS garden centres have mayflower for sale or have seeds available ?
    Seems a pity that our provincial flower seems so very difficult to find legitimately !
    Thanks
    Dawson Miller in Lower Sackville

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    Replies
    1. It is very hard to propagate, and I don't know that anyone carries it here. It also likes specific sites, and isn't an ideal garden plant. Best to just enjoy it in situ.

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