World of Wonder: Fleece Flower -The Toast

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Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s previous World of Wonder columns can be found here.

In this edition of World of Wonder, the focus is on what you don’t really get to see of a very grouchy and grabby plant. The fleece flower is one of the world’s most invasive plants and it can grow and stretch to be almost thirteen feet tall in just over two months. In fact, real estate deals have gone sour at the last hour upon finding just a little slip of fleece flower too close to an otherwise primo piece of real estate. Fleece flower can spread around twenty-three feet on average in diameter, and you can imagine the havoc it wreaks on plumbing, cables, and foundations.

Just look at that fleece flower patch about to gobble up that sweet girl. Poor thing.

Also known as knotweed or monkeyweed, the most unique thing about Fallopia Japonica is the unusual shape of the rhizomes, which often resemble…a little furry person!

I’m thinking of something environmentalist Rachel Carson (one of my heroes!) wrote: “Those who dwell, as scientists or laymen, among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.” The thought of dozens of little chubby, cartoon-like figures hiding in the soil cracks me up to no endand yes, in another week in which the news has me so weary and sad yet again at all the violence in the world, finding a little chuckle in nature can be most welcome.

And I don’t want to diminish the destructive effects that fleece flower can have on homes or businesses, or ignore the fact that some people do count on it and forage for it as a vegetable, and I don’t want to ignore the tiny delicate flowers it puts forth in later summer. Many of you have probably seen fleece flower without even realizing what lay beneath. It does appear in all but eleven states here in America, and is listed as a supremely invasive plant in the states of New York, Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Vermont, among others—but there is something pretty delightful (or funny-creepy, depending how you look at it) that whole fields of little “root people” rest just underneath the soil, perhaps in places you drive or walk by every day.

It’s a mighty snow-filled winter where I write this now, but I for one cannot wait to get my hands in the earth again this summer: so many surprises in the soil, some secrets too delicious to keep us from smiling.

Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author of three books of poetry, most recently Lucky Fish. She is a professor of English and teaches poetry and environmental lit at a small college in Western New York. She is obsessed with peacocks, jellyfish, and school supplies. Follow her on Twitter: @aimeenez.

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