Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Idiot Bushes Are in Full Bloom

My father, Bernard Smith, was very knowledgeable about many things. He could quote passages from Shakespeare and other authors; and he could discuss (intelligently) theological matters with the best of theologians. More than a few times I witnessed my father doing mathematical calculations in his head. He encouraged my own interest in biology and, at a very young age, dinosaurs. Of course I adored him and believed, as most kids probably do of their own fathers, that he knew Everything (that's everything with a capital "E"). Always possessing a keen sense of humor, he would tell me and my siblings that if I ever had a question about something, all I had to do was to ask it. If he didn't know the correct answer he would respond: "That was a very good question, why don't you ask me another?"

Despite all of the things that my father knew, one thing stumped him ~ the idiot bush. The idiot bush suddenly appeared one summer in our yard ~ not among the other wild bushes that covered the hillside behind the house ~ not along the creek ~ not out of the way anywhere, but smack dab in the open space of the yard. Okay, so it wasn't in the front yard, but in the portion of yard that bordered the garage, so it was kinda out of the way. Maybe that is why my father didn't immediately mow it down. It really didn't bother anyone. It just was there. And boy did it grow!
The bush was almost six feet tall by the end of the summer, with seven or eight long, slender 'branches' sprouting upward from the base of the primary one. Suddenly there was another, similar bush, growing just three feet away from the first. Although there were now two distinct bushes, we always referred to them as 'the idiot bush'.

My brother and I were warned not to cut down the idiot bush, so when we mowed the yard we had to work around the two space-grabbers. Every time that I mowed the yard, and had to dodge the arching branches, I muttered a word or two of disapproval. In those days when I mowed with a push mower, I preferred simple yards ~ yards that required only a few swipes, straight up and down, without being slowed down by trees or bushes. So suddenly there were two bushes standing in the middle of the very yard that I preferred to mow in a few swipes, straight up and down.

Why did my dad name the bushes that suddenly appeared in our yard: the idiot bush? Probably because it was one of those few things that he did not know the answer to. And I'm sure if we would have asked him why he named them that, he probably would have responded: "That's a very good question; now do you have any others?"

My father passed away thirteen years ago. The idiot bush (both of them) had to be cut down when I constructed my house and needed to use that portion of the yard for my septic drainage field. But that wasn't the end of the idiot bush; over the years I watched them sprouting just about everywhere. They grew on the hillside, along the creek, and by the side of most of the roads on which I drove my car.

Times change. Instead of being able to ask my knowledgeable father questions about things like "What kind of bush was that?", I now have to find the answers elsewhere. So I searched on the internet and discovered the true name of our idiot bush: Japanese Honeysuckle.

The photos on this post are of the Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica). The United States Department of Agriculture has listed the Japanese Honeysuckle as an invasive weed. That's a shame, because the delicate flowers that cover the bush are very beautiful. Depending on the type of soil, some of the plants bear white flowers with yellow stamens, while others bear pink or even purple flowers. On my property, the plants that grow along the creek tend to bloom with white flowers, while the ones that grow along the slate outcropping of the hillside tend to bloom in a beautiful pinkish purple.
The flowers of the Japanese Honeysuckle have a fragrance similar to vanilla. According to many sources, the plant produces many berries that ripen from green to black; all of the bushes in my area produce red berries that don't change color before falling from the plant. The plant spreads rapidly. The plant is considered a vine because it will intertwine itself with trees or other structures in which it comes in contact. Because of their capacity to grow anywhere, in good or bad soil alike, and because they propagate by either rhizomes underground, runners aboveground, and/or seeds, they tend to grow right where you don't want them and are large bushes before you know it.

I'm older now than my father was when he christened the honeysuckle plant as: the idiot bush. I think of Bernard Smith everytime I see the idiot bushes blooming.

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