ORRIN MORRIS: Spring white baneberry looks nothing like fall flower

WHITE BANEBERRY Actaea pachypoda

WHITE BANEBERRY Actaea pachypoda

As I was driving home from classes several years ago, I heard a discussion on the radio about creating a new mini-universe. The theory revolves around creating tiny black holes that explode and generate a small universe to be mined, drilled, farmed and inhabited, I suppose.

I have a very strong urge within me to understand how things work. My 30-plus years in research and these 15 years studying wildflowers testify to that propensity. I do not choose to argue about the use of the terms “evolve,” ‘adaptation,” or “mutations.” Thus, I found that discussion on NPR fascinating.

Scientists at universities in the U.S., Israel, Japan and Switzerland, we were told, are collaborating to compress matter so perfectly that a “seed” smaller than an atom would weigh 10 pounds. In the interview, a scientist from Columbia University brought my imagination to a sudden halt when he said such possibility of creating the “seed” is years and years away.

The image of a group of scientists creating a universe meant they are essential to the formula, a collaboration of minds, however long it might take. Fascinating? Indeed, but improbable. Theories of black holes and how the universe developed change from year to year, much of it speculation.

The wildflower we examine today is another example of the complexity and diversity of life in this present universe. This plant may be native to Mexico but has been used medicinally among Indian Americans for centuries, according to Jack Sanders in his book, “Hedgemaids and Fairy Candles, The Lives and Lore of North American Wildflowers.”


Actaea pachypoda

This wildflower has two lives.

In the spring, it bears feathery white clusters of flowers. These are strange structures, too. There are no petals and the sepals that spread like petals drop off within a day or so after the flower appears. What is left as a white feathery cluster are stigmas and stamens.

White baneberry is also know as white cohosh, though technically in a different genera.

The plants stand about 3 feet tall. The leaves are opposites, as illustrated, and 2 to 3 inches long.

The second life comes in late summer as the fruit matures. Thus we have another name for the plant, doll’s eyes. The fruit case is waxy white with a dark purple dot on the end. They resemble the eyes that swiveled in the china dolls of the 19th century and before. For similar reasoning, other folk names include whiteheads and grapewort.

Indian Americans widely valued the juice of the berries for medicinal purposes. However none of those uses caught on with the European settlers.

If the universe as we know it began from a black hole, who created the hole? Since I was not there, I am personally satisfied with what Psalm 100 says, “Know that the Lord Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture” (v.3).

Images of God revealed in Jesus are much beyond an indifferent creator some people describe. God was depicted as a caring, loving, encouraging, and forgiving Father. I think God continues to create and it is He who inspires the inquisitive nature seen in scientific research.

Orrin Morris is a retired Baptist minister, local artist and art teacher. To purchase a two-volume set of books featuring his wildflower columns, visit the Nature Seen Gallery & Frame Shop, 914 Center St. in Olde Town Conyers, or call 770-929-3697 or text 404-824-3697. Email him at odmsketchingpad@yahoo.com.