History does repeat itself. Look back 100 or so years to see a nation with issues similar to today's issues. 

Some actions were (and still are) shameful. Race riots occurred in 1917, with violence against and murder of African American citizens in East St. Louis and Houston. 

A pandemic that would kill 675,000 United States citizens struck with a vengeance in 1918, and our country was at war in Europe. Women were also fighting – for their right to vote, which eventually came to all women in 1920.  

A century ago, the Island population of 4,500 was dealing with these and other events. Gay Head provided the highest percentage of soldiers to World War I of any town in Massachusetts. Twenty-seven Islanders, young and old, died from influenza in 1918, and a German submarine sank a Vineyard fishing schooner off of Georges Bank in that same year. A large fire would break out and burn 20 percent of the Island, wiping out all of the heath hen nests in what is now the state forest.  

Yet, just as today, people found peace, pleasure and interest in the study of nature even through turmoil. Then and now, there were naturalists who combed the landscape and studied their findings despite desperate events and personal travail.    

Frank Conkling Seymour was a Harvard botanist who made extensive contributions to identifying the flora of the Island in 1916 and 1917.  During that tumultuous time, he observed and named many species. One that he found and documented on the Island for the first time, seedbox, would not be discovered again for more than 100 years.  

Fast -forward to the present day. Contemporary botanists Margaret Curtain and Greg Palermo re-confirmed the presence of the plant, whose scientific name is Ludwigia alterniflora. And no, it wasn’t that musical Ludwig; the plant was named by Linnaeus for a colleague, German botany professor Christian G. Ludwig. The recent specimen was located in a different place than the one identified years earlier by Seymour.  

Seedbox, also called rattlebox, is so named for the square box or pod in which it holds its seeds, and the sounds that the seeds make when the box dries out in the fall. A member of the primrose family, seedbox prefers wetlands and marshes, giving it another alias: water primrose.    

Its flower, a four-petalled yellow bee-loved summer affair, is elusive and difficult to observe in bloom since the petals remain intact on the plant for less than a day before they fall to the ground. Reddish stems will help with the identification, but it is those square fruit capsules that seal the deal. Atop the box, a pore or hole and an almost decorative pattern exist. The hole allows seeds to escape, and the box can also burst at the seams to release the seeds for dispersal by wind and water. 

Nature knows, and constantly shows, that what goes around comes around—even if it takes a century. And while we can be pleased to find a lost, but not forgotten plant, it’s up to us to think outside the box and learn from history if we want to have a future that breaks the cycles that harm us.

Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown, and author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature and The Nature of Martha’s Vineyard.