There are many wonderful sayings regarding the first blooms of spring.
“The flowers of late winter and early spring occupy places in our hearts well out of proportion to their size,” said Gertrude Wister, which is definitely true. Audra Foveo added, sagely, “If you’ve never been thrilled to the very edges of your soul by a flower in spring bloom, maybe your soul has never been in bloom.”
It seems that most people’s souls really are in bloom with the welcome change of weather, finally, and the smiles are returning to their faces after what George Harrison (who must have spent some off-season time on the Island) called “a long, cold, lonely winter.” Here comes the sun indeed.
The yellow color of the sun is reproduced in the flowers of one of its earliest greeters of the season, the forsythia. Forsythias, in fact, put the proverbial cart before the horse: their small yellow flowers burst forth ahead of the leaves, as if they just can’t wait any longer. (Even better, the leaves stay on for a long time. Forsythia is one of the last deciduous shrubs to drop its leaves in the fall.)
I certainly won’t tire of these yellow flowers; it has been too gray for too long. Yellow is a welcome change, and flowers are, as Henry Ward Beecher said, “the sweetest things God ever made and forgot to put a soul into.”
Soul or not, Hank would appreciate the sight of the forsythia plants blooming Island-wide. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, too. She asserted: “Forsythias are pure joy. There is not an ounce, nor a glimmer of sadness or even knowledge in forsythia. Pure, undiluted, untouched joy.”
Forsythias are flowers that have the same scientific and common name. It was a significant Scot for whom this plant was named. William Forsyth gained fame for his gardening skill, but was also credited with building the first rock garden by using lava rocks from Iceland and stone blocks from the Tower of London. Genius quite deserving of the legacy of having this outstanding plant named after him.
Another reason to like these so-called “golden bells” is that, as members of the plant family oleaceae, they are related to olives. Like olives, some of the plant may be edible. My sources differ in their opinion of whether to eat the early blooming flowers, but the fruits and seeds are not only edible but may cure what ails you.
In Chinese medicine, one variety of forsythia produces a medicine called lian qiao, and is recommended to alleviate chills, fever and headaches, expel toxins, treat burns, infections and carbuncles, and lessen the discomfort of rashes and blemishes.
It is also a dream for those of us who don’t have a green thumb. Forsythia is said to grow anywhere for anyone, because it is tolerant of pollution and poor growing conditions. While it is not native to this area (it comes from Eastern Europe and East Asia), it will not escape your yard and go on a golden rampage, invading the Island wilds.
“If you don’t know what’s meant by God, watch a forsythia branch or a lettuce leaf sprout,” Martin H. Fischer said. It’s interesting how often the harbingers of spring make philosophers and poets speak of God or the soul, rather than mere beauty. It’s as if forsythia possesses not only the ability to signify the end of winter, but to actually help hasten it along. And who knows? Maybe it does, if only in our moods .
Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.