Larry Yox is one of our longer term Members here at Lost Valley Community. He has a passion for many things but if you want to see his entire body light up — instantly — ask him a question about a wildflower. Any ole question will do. Be prepared to hear a college-level teaching lesson on the general subject, because once you get Larry started, his mind and knowledge just go on a tour of Wildflower World, whether or not you are actually looking at the subject in question. Larry has the flowers distinctly in his mind’s eye, so he is “seeing” everything he is talking about. And if you are willing, you can begin to see them too.
Bottom line: Larry Yox is a walking encyclopedia of botanical information. More specifically, he embodies an immense amount of information about the wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest. Even more specifically, he has the keenest interest in the flowers that appear each year on our 87 acres of woodland forest and Savannah meadows. He is a living library on this topic.
The last week of April, I asked Larry to take me on a tour and talk to me on his favorite topic. He was delighted! We had only walked about 50 feet down the road toward the meadow and already, Larry began to speak about the plants along the way. These were not exactly wildflowers but they were plants that had beauty and value as herbal remedies. One plant in particular he pointed out, because of his early childhood memories associated with his father’s intense dislike for the plant. Larry had grown up maligning teasel, because his father had only negative things to say about it. Much later, Larry began to experience the beauty of this plant in its flowering and reproductive phases. He heard herbalists speak of the value of the plant as a “beneficial.” In addition to having its own healing properties, teasel helps the plants around it to be more healthy. Larry gained a new appreciation for this plant and he couldn’t help but pass that story of his change of mind and heart along to me.
So my first “wildflower” on the tour was not a wildflower at all but a majestic plant with six-foot tall spires that before they die, sport beautiful purple flowers, much like a thistle, although they are not thistles. The plants have a two-year cycle. The stalk appears in the second year. The leaves at the base of these dead stalks are second-year growth. The first year occurs out of sight, underground. I was fascinated; I’d marveled at these plants for a decade and never had any information about them.
We were still walking to the “wildflowers” and already I was learning a whole bunch of information. The next topic was the much-maligned and highly beneficial plant — the Dandelion!
Larry shared that every part of this plant is usable from the flowers (which my neighbor dipped in batter and deep fried into yummy fritters !) the leaves (great in salads or steeped in teas) the stalks (excellent for liver/digestive system health) and the roots (also a liver/digestive tonic when boiled or made into tinctures.) And many other medicinal uses too.
Larry also shared that the dandelion is so prolific (ask anyone who has a lawn and they will verify this) that is can propagate up to three generations of itself in one growing season. Flowers – puffballs – seeds in the wind = next generation plant (repeat). This was amazing to me! I had no idea!
Now, I understood more completely why this humble plant has been singled out by Big Pharma to be eradicated by any means, at any cost — even the cost of poisoning all living beings and our Mother Planet. This understanding has changed my whole attitude about dandelions and now, when I see one along the road — smiling its bright sunny greeting at me — I smile right back and thank it for bringing so much goodness into our world.
We were still walking “to” the wildflowers when Larry noticed a patch of “purple deadnettle” (a member of the mint family) by the side of the road. I had seen these beautiful plants with small furry leaves and sweet purple flowers and mistaken them for a kind of clover. They are not clover (I should have known that from the shape of the leaves.) I had already discovered that this plant is edible, because one day for lunch one of our cooks had made a “wild and edible” salad featuring purple deadnettle. It was a little like eating a caterpillar but otherwise had a very pleasant taste.
And finally, we got to the meadow and found our first true wildflower: The Western Buttercup! They grow taller here in Oregon. The ones I had known in California grew closer to the ground. I resisted the temptation to pick one and hold it under my chin, as I had been taught as a child — to see if I liked butter? Who doesn’t like butter? Many of our wildflowers are protected here in Oregon. It is illegal to pick them. Here at Lost Valley, even though we are on private property, we follow the same rule and leave the wildflowers in their natural places, as much as possible.
I will press “pause” for now and continue this walk with Larry in a few days. We spent two hours together and he gave me a college-level “lecture” on so many varieties that I will need to deliver this in a series or risk putting you to sleep.