Beauty is a Short-Lived Tyranny

English: Hesperis matronalis (Dame's Rocket) i...
English: Hesperis matronalis (Dame's Rocket) in bloom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Or so said Socrates. I suppose he was speaking of the youthful feminine variety. Ah, I remember it well.

But maybe the saying also applies when it comes to one of my favorite wildflowers. I’ve just come to discover that it has settled in only to take over.

There are botanical tyrannies, too, that have bewitched us to coexist with an invader we may just have to break up with.

I’m speaking of a tall, common roadside volunteer that is common in flower this time of year–white, pink and light purple–along Floyd County roads.

It’s common name is Dame’s Rocket (a word that traces back to the Latin for downy-stemmed plant and has nothing to do with space travel). Its Latin name carries some information, as most do. Hesperis matrionalis says, first it was commonly planted by young women in their flower gardens, and second, that it smells most sweetly in the evening.

Sweet smelling, colorful and easy to grow. What’s not to like? Its aggressive growth into agricultural areas, natural and protected areas and native landscapes. It may have, like its cousin Garlic Mustard, the ability to exude from its roots substances that prevent the growth of the competition. It makes copious seeds and  once introduced into an area (frankly, I’d thought to transplant some into Goose Creek valley at one time) it will out-compete other native flora.

Like so many “weeds”, Dames Rocket may be developing herbicide resistance, especially in heavily-monocultured agricultural areas. There are very many heavily-monocultured agricultural areas.

And with regard to our attempts to thwart nature, I highly recommend but know only one of you will actually read  The Folly of Big Agriculture where Verlyn Klinkenborg strongly advocates we take a new approach in our relationship to nature, to work with, rather than the usual heavy-handed against–that has been the arrogant, ignorant attitude of our generation.

We will NOT win with this bigger hammer approach, and we might not survive if we don’t learn to see how our species fits in the whole of nature. Big-Ag has been a short-lived tyranny. Nature always wins.


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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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