This fragile-looking beauty–blooming all across the Texas Hill Country this week–is Centaurea Americana, the basketflower. And yes, if you’re thinking it looks a lot like a bachelor’s button or cornflower, you’re right on the money. They belong in the same family. It got its common name from the intricate interwoven pattern of bracts on the underside of the blossom, which makes the pretty flower look as if its held in a basket. You can see that beautifully symmetrical pattern on this flower bud. (File under: Isn’t nature amazing?)
Centaurea has cousins all around the world and has been used for centuries in a salve to heal open sores. British herbalist Nicholas Culpeper summed up its European uses in the seventeenth century: “It gently heals up running sores and will do the same for scabs of the head.” Native Americans also found Centaurea a handy plant to have around, using it as a poultice for sores and a decoction for toothaches, stomachaches, and constipation. It’s an annual, but it self-seeds generously. If it finds a comfortable home in your garden it will not-so-subtly expand its territory. In fact, one of its less amiable kin, Centaurea stoebe (spotted knapweed) is an invasive that is outlawed in many states. But outlaw or inlaw, the pollinators love it. Our basketflowers are hosting hummingbirds, bees (especially our native bumblebees), and butterflies–the Painted Ladies adore it.
From the writing desk. The current China Bayles mystery (Forget Me Never) is just a couple of chapters away from its ending. China knows whodunnit (of course) but I always have trouble finding a satisfying and believable way to nab the evil doer, with a maximum amount of threat and a minimum of bloodshed. For me, the wrap-up is always the hardest part of the book. Still, China insists that we will be finished by the middle of July, and that you’ll have the book in March or April 2024.
Also on the to-do list this week: completing the cover copy for Someone Always Nearby, the Georgia O’Keeffe/Maria Chabot novel that comes out in November. And writing a set of interview questions for Janet Tyson, who has done some fascinating research into the real Elizabeth Blackwell, whose fictional stand-in was a central character in Hemlock. You can read our interview here at the end of the month, a companion piece to my interview last week with Marta McDowell, the editor of the recently-released modern edition of Blackwell’s A Curious Herbal.
Noteworthy. I seem to be reading a great deal more nonfiction than fiction these days, maybe because of the pace and intensity of events on the national stage. On the top of my stack this week, a very good book by Michael Waldman: The Supermajority: How the Supreme Court Divided America. If you’re interested in the court’s current affairs, this look into its history will help you see how we got where we are. I’ve also recently read Nine Black Robes (Joan Biskupic) and The Shadow Docket (Stephen Vladeck). The three together have been hugely illuminating–lots to think about.
Update. Ali Velshi’s reading of the entire Trump indictment may be found here. Wherever you are on the political landscape, it’s important to be reliably informed on this issue. I urge you to read it or listen to it.
Your turn. Do you read much nonfiction? Any interesting titles to recommend? All civil comments welcome. I join in as I have time and something to add to the discussion.