Friday, May 18, 2012


It's that time of year when the meadows and ditches turn sunshine yellow, and kids go loping through the grass collecting buttercups. Put a bossom against a playmate's chin: Do you like butter?

Such an intense yellow! Petals, sepals, pistils, stamens. Buttercups are not specialists. They have evolved no special passages or traps to insure that insects encounter pollen-giving or pollen-receiving devices. They have no exclusive relationship with any particular insect. They spread their bounty to one and all -- bees, flies, wasps, even beetles. Here it is, gang. A picnic spread on a yellow cloth. Dig in.

And so many varieties. I long ago gave up trying to learn the different species. Buttercup is designation enough. The blossoms all look the same.

Still, I love to read the litanies of names that the flower has gathered in different places and different times. Gold-cup. King's-cup. Yellow-weed. Butter-daisy. Queen's-button. Cuckoo-buds. Pissabed. Pilewort. Chicken-pepper. Crowfoot. Blister-wort. Butter-rose. Golden-knobs. Frogwort. Saint-Anthony's-turnip.

I guess us old Catholics have a thing for litanies. Remember that long list of names we had for the Virgin Mary. Mystical rose. Tower of ivory. House of gold. Ark of the covenant, Gate of heaven. Morning star. Oh, how piously we rattled off those appellations. Then we left the church and went running through the meadows. Butter-daisy. King's-cup. Pissabed.

"Cuckoo-buds of yellow hue do paint the meadows with delight," wrote Shakespeare in Love's Labour's Lost. Chicken-pepper. Crowfoot. Butter-rose. Amen.