Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pretty pictures: Road trip / September roadside flowers

The flower pictures in this post are from Saturday, September 12, and were taken either in Fairfield, Iowa, or along the gravel roads between Fairfield and Richland. This was supposed to be an errand-running kind of trip, but both the husband and I lived in the area for substantial parts of our lives, and the places we intended to go were mostly closed, so little erranding was achieved.

However, being unable to do what we came to do, and having gone so far to do it, we tried to make the best of it by driving around the area a bit. For example, we visited the "American Gothic" house in Eldon, IA. You can't go in the house, but you can take pictures of the outside. They also have a small museum full of "American Gothic"-related items. Mostly these are parodies, though there was a tiny bit of stuff in there which might come up if and when I do a Pelargonium x hortorum profile, and they also had a print of a lesser-known Grant Wood painting of a woman with a Sansevieria:

They also have a gift shop (naturally) and a staff of two really bored, sort of aggressively friendly people who will descend on you like locusts if you drive up and talk your ear off with speeches about the house and Grant Wood and the people in the painting (Wood's sister and dentist1) and how many visitors the center has had since they opened and how long ago that was, and so on and so forth until you just want to get away. They apparently have the whole thing completely memorized, though, so you can't interrupt them; you just have to kind of let the tape run until it's over, and then they'll let you look around.

If you're interested, they also have a prop pitchfork on the premises for anyone who wants to try to recreate the painting. The husband and I did try (without the pitchfork: we felt silly enough as it was), though getting the perspective remotely right is nearly impossible. One of the staffers offered to take our picture, and we let him, but he stood so far away from us that we're barely even visible in the picture: it's like 75% house and 25% us, which I suspect reflects our relative importance in the staffer's eyes. So I advise anyone who's planning to try this to bring your own photographer, ideally someone slightly shorter than whoever is going to be in the picture, and for the love of God have them stand close.

We also drove around a little bit in Ottumwa, IA, (pronounced: uh-TUM-wuh) though even the parts of Ottumwa that don't smell like assorted pig fluids are kind of unpleasant (lots of tattoo parlors, strip clubs, pawn shops, that sort of thing), and the pig-fluid stench made the husband nauseous for a good fifteen or twenty minutes. One feels bad for Ottumwa, and Ottumwans: there are still some people there who are trying very hard to make it pleasant, but they are failing. I saw evidence of gardening, for example, and a few brave souls were trying to operate restaurants downwind of the Cargill Meat Solutions plant (translation: slaughterhouse).2 But it's really kind of a lost cause. And no, I didn't take any pictures.3

But anyway. Flowers.

From what I'm able to see from the road, there are exactly five plants blooming right now in East-Central and Southeast Iowa. One of them, Canadian thistle, I didn't get pictures of, because although the flowers are quite lovely, the plants are ugly, and dangerous to stand close to, and distributed unevenly. Another, Queen Anne's lace (Daucus carota), I've taken pictures of before, and the few flowers that are left this time of year aren't very pretty, so I didn't feel compelled to do that again.

Which leaves three.

I've posted pictures of goldenrod (Solidago spp.) before, but it's more or less unavoidable out in the country now, so I'm going to again. It's a good thing it doesn't actually cause hay fever (that would be ragweed, which is also blooming now), because it is everyfuckingwhere right now. I mean, I like it, but that just makes me lucky, because you can't get away from it.

Then the asters are beginning to bloom now as well, here and there. My best guess for an ID would be Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, but I don't really know. Some kind of Symphyotrichum would seem likely, in any case.

The real star at the moment, though, are the Heliopsis, though. They've been blooming their little heads off for at least a month already, but like the goldenrod, they are everywhere, and they also manage to be even brighter and more noticeable than the goldenrod.

It's stuff like this that makes me think I must have been an extraordinarily dull and unobservant child: surely if this was going on along the side of the road, I would remember seeing it?

And there are entire fields of the stuff, here and there. All the uncultivated land seems to be claimed by either the Heliopsis or the Solidago right now. Though the Solidago I actually remember seeing, as a kid.

I suppose it could be worse. No doubt there are people who have lived their entire lives in Iowa without yet noticing the Heliopsis.


1 They're apparently not meant to be a couple, though everyone interprets the painting that way, which is interesting, considering how the woman is clearly a good thirty years younger than the man. Wood's sister was apparently kind of mortified by this.
2 I find the name "Cargill Meat Solutions" darkly hilarious, as it implies the existence, somewhere, of a "Cargill Meat Problems" plant.
3 You're welcome.


lynn'sgarden said...

Funny! Yeah, don't you just hate those kinds of tour guides?! Ottumwa sounds like a pretty rough town! Nice favorite is the field of goldenrods!

Nancy in Sun Lakes AZ said...

My favorite is the Heliopsis! They are so cheerful. I also love your writing with its insightful and often humorously ironic perspective! Just great!

Karen715 said...

The very same wild Asters turned up in my garden last year, and I let them stay. I have one blooming its fool head off right now. It is prettier and longer lasting than the Asters cultivars that I've purchased in the past. The bees and butterflies love them.

My husband was amused that when we saw American Gothic at the Art Institute of Chicago, I took care to point out the Sansevieria and Begonia on the porch. I think it is the same Sans shown the painting you posted.

mr_subjunctive said...

It very likely is the same Sansevieria, though the official word on the other plant is that it's a geranium (Pelargonium), not a Begonia. (Not that you could tell; they're tiny and blurry, at least in the reproductions I've seen.) The exhibit room at the museum had fake Sansevierias and geraniums all over, lining the floor along every wall, and I thought this was weird until I read the part of the exhibit about the plants. I forget the symbolism of the geranium, but supposedly it is symbolic of something or another, something not good.


Just searched for the original picture on-line and I agree that it does look more like a Begonia. But officially it's still a Pelargonium.

Karen715 said...

My husband helped me to find a a really large, very high resolution version. The plants are somewhat more detailed than one would imagine at first glance:

Looking at a close-up, I still think that the plant is a Begonia; the leaf shape and growth habit seems wrong for a pelly.

I'm wondering how the plant "officially" became a Pelargonium. If that is what the artist said it was, that is one thing--the symbolism of the painting is whatever he desired it to be. Maybe Grant Wood thought a Begonia was a Pelargonium; lots of non-gardeners don't know their Asters from a whole in the ground. Maybe it really was a pelly, and his rendering made it look like a Begonia. Anyway, his word is good enough for me.

However, if some curator/art historian decided it was a Pelargonium, and then built up this symbolism around it, well, as I learned at my old job*: Curators are not horticulturists. At the museum I worked, for there were at least a couple of acquisition cards got the details about the plants depicted in the paintings quite wrong.

*I was a security guard at a major museum in NYC for 9.5 years.

mr_subjunctive said...

I don't know whether that was the official Grant Wood line or just something that the curators decided: it seems like a Pelargonium would have been more historically likely -- you wouldn't be able to grow a Begonia outdoors from year to year in Iowa in 1930 (or indoors, probably; this would have been before central heating), and it doesn't seem like Begonias would have even been very widely available in 1930, either. Though I don't know a lot about the history of either genus, so maybe I'm way off there.

Perhaps it's just that Wood wasn't a botanist and didn't draw plants very well: the Sansevieria isn't photo-realistic either.

Karen715 said...

I don't know how long Begonias have been in common cultivation as houseplants.

Interestingly enough,though when searching for Begonia erythrophylla (common name Beefsteak Begonia) which is what I think Grant's plant kinda/sorta resembles and is supposedly an old time "grandma" plant, I came across the term "Beefsteak Geranium" which is apparently a common name for a number of rhizo/rex begonias. Since only plant nerds like us actually call Pelargoniums by their correct genus, I assume the folks at the museum was calling the plant a "Geranium". Do you see where I'm headed here?

[If you do, can you kindly tell me why I'm spending so much time on this? ;-) ]

mr_subjunctive said...

That works as a theory for me. Though now I wonder who looked at a Begonia in the early 20th century and thought it looked enough like a geranium to take the same name.

Diane said...

"Meat Solutions"... took me a moment to realize they didn't mean meats dissolved in some liquid. Not that what really goes on in there is any more pleasant.

I've been noticing the number of goldies and asters growing along the train tracks at my stop. I've been using that stop for about 15 years; how have I never actually seen the flowers before?

Anonymous said...

*That* is a Begonia. I have one in my front window. Annoyingly, it's not labeled. But it's *definitely* a Begonia. The definite article, you might say.


Don said...

Are you sure those yellow daisies are Heliopsis rather than Helianthus? Maybe Helianthus tuberosus?

Though by any name they look just as good.

mr_subjunctive said...

Not sure at all, actually. There are a completely stupid number of plants with yellow flowers that look more or less like that. IIRC, Heliopsis was the closest match I found on some weeds-of-Iowa website somewhere.