Spring has arrived with its vivid display of color and that has brought a question. Which of our common flowers are native to this area? That is not a question I can address from the view of a botanist, but I can address it as a historian. There are a number of early accounts that describe the flora of the Golden Triangle.
One of the earliest detailed accounts of the region was by British civil engineer Bernard Romans. In 1771 he traveled along the west side of the Tombigbee River and published a description of what he had observed. He found what he called “a very curious plant” of the marigold family that was “a fine crimson color.” There was also the wild strawberry, which he found in abundance. Principally, though, he recorded the types of trees that he saw and the quality of the soil.
In the mid 1770s naturalist William Bartram traveled through central and south Alabama. There the Oak Leaf Hydrangea caught his eye. He published a drawing of it and wrote an almost three quarter page description. It was described as “a very singular and beautiful shrub.” Specimens of the plant were later carried to England where they were to be grown in the “protection of a greenhouse.”
My favorite early description was contained in a letter written on April 20,1822, by William Goodell, who was traveling from Columbus to the Choctaw Indian mission at Mayhew. His route followed what is now known as Old West Point Road. Mayhew was at that time on a ridge overlooking Tibbee Creek between present day West Point and Starkville. Goodell quoted a missionary, Dr. Worcester, as saying of Mayhew; “This is the loveliest spot my eyes ever saw.” The letter continued with Goodell”s own description; “Flowers of red, purple, yellow and indeed of every hue, are scattered, by a bountiful God, in rich profusion, and in all the beauty and innocence of Eden, on each side of the path; and their fragrance is, as if the very incense of heaven were there offered. You can stand in almost any place, and count flowers of ten or twelve different hues.”
Still today when you ride through the prairie in the spring, it comes alive with verbena, butterfly weed, primrose, buttercup and other wild flowers of every hue. Within the undeveloped wooded areas east of the Tombigbee River wild Oak Leaf Hydrangea can also still be found. And then there is the wild strawberry which drew Roman”s attention in 1771. It is now considered as no more than a nuisance by most people.
Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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