8/11/2016 Meteors and Native (Plant) Stars

Did you see the gorgeous half-moon last night?  Sometimes when I take the dog outside at night, I leave the porch light off in hopes of seeing the stars. Last night, the sky was just dark enough to see the brightest stars. The waxing moon, gold and low in the southern sky, presided over the planets Mars and Saturn and the brilliant star Antares (I wish I could brag that I knew that off the top of my head!). It was not dark enough yet to see any of the shooting stars from the Perseid meteor shower. The annual star-show will be at its height in the wee hours of Friday morning—after moon-set. It is slated to put on an extra-spectacular show this year. I’m counting on insomnia kicking in tonight!

Thinking about the heavens as the dog took his final pee on his favorite Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum), I wondered what constellations are named for plants? Are there any? The answer, I learned today, is zero. Of the 88 constellations recognized by the International Astronomical Union, NONE feature plants. Did the ancient Greeks and Sumerians consider even olive branches and grape clusters too mundane, too earthly, for a slot on a sky chart?  Why aren’t any constellations named after PLANTS?

There are plenty of plants named after STARS! A few of our earthbound, ground-hugging, spring-blooming native perennials come to mind: Broad-leaved Starflower’s (Trientalis latifolia) delicate white-to-pinkish stars nod on invisible stems 3-4 inches above the surface of the planet. Star-Flowered False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum stellata) is a woodland groundcover whose nebulas of tiny stars hover in earth’s atmosphere, elevated on their leafy stems up to two feet high.  And Broad-leaved Shootingstar (Dodecatheon hendersonii) aspires to the heavens (reaching its zenith at approximately 12 inches). Dormant now, in early spring its bright magenta flowers illuminate the garden.

As long as I’m demanding answers, why doesn’t the shade-loving groundcover Inside-out Flower (Vancouveria hexandra) rate a heavenly appellation? The delicate white flowers have the same shape (albeit smaller) as Shootingstars! The shape of its leaves has earned it the alternate name “Duckfoot” – cute, but the opposite of celestial-sounding.

Tonight, turn off your porch light, look up, and let the heavens inspire you. But today, look down at your feet, and let the heavens-on-earth sustain you.

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