Thursday, February 13, 2014

The flowers of Jämtland - Nattviol

Platanthera bifolia flowers and fruits

Pictures from a stay in East Jämtland last summer (early July 2013).

Above, Lesser Butterfly-orchid = Nattviol (Platanthera bifolia). This one is the woodland variety with longer spurs (ssp. latiflora (Drejer) Löjtnant), known in Sweden as "Skogsnattviol".  On the right of the picture above, you can see a dried-up spike from the previous year.

Nattviol means "night violet" and refers to the fragrant scent at evening, designed to appeal to moths.

Here in Jämtland it's close to the northern limit of its range, but this should not lead you into thinking that the plants are rare or sickly.  Here in the woody copse known as "Sjögrens" at the back of our old summer cottage (to which, alas, we were saying our goodbyes) there has always been this healthy colony of nattviol. Perhaps the conditions are exceptionally good, in the sheltered Indal valley, on a calcareous west-facing slope.

Nattviol is a common plant in Sweden (especially central Sweden) and much celebrated, tending to become a symbol of the mystery and melancholy in those white nights of summer.

Dofta, dofta nattviol,
sommarnatt är ljum,
ingen oro sjuder.
Och till skogens tysta rum
långt ur fjärran ljuder
vemodsensam bondfiol.

Fragrant, fragrant night-violet,
summernight warm,
no unease here.
In the wood's silent spaces,
far from commotion,
one sad and lonely peasant violin.

(Erik Grotenfelt - a Finland-Swedish poet, 1891 - 1919. This unhappy poet, novelist and children's-book author, who was an early champion of Edith Södergran, received his military training in Germany, fought for the Whites during the Finnish Civil War, ordered the execution of sixty Red Guards and at least two women at Västankvarn in May 1918, initially carried out the sentences himself  (the men, he said afterwards, were not experienced in the enforcement of judgments), and shot himself a year later.  He was later claimed by Finnish Nazis as an inspirational forerunner, which more or less terminated any lingering interest in his writings.)

Platanthera bifolia, basal leaves

Platanthera bifolia, close-up of flower (after fertilization)

Platanthera bifolia, close-up - ovary, spur, unfertilized flower

The parallel arrangement of the pollinia, well shown in the close-up above, is the clearest distinction from Greater Butterfly-orchid (Platanthera chlorantha). (They also have a different scent.) Recent molecular analysis by Bateson et al shows remarkably little difference between the DNA of the two species. Contrary to what has been sensationally reported elsewhere, Bateson and his colleagues are not suggesting that they aren't two different species, only that there's something exceptional about their relationship to each other. Perhaps they only diverged very recently.

Platanthera bifolia under juniper


Stumt är livets sorl och skogens röster,
daggen tillrar tyst från blad till blad,
ingen strimma rodnar än i öster -
äng i månskensbad.

Det är här i tystnaden du talar,
vita blomma, och ditt tal är doft.
Vällukt vandrar över bleka dalar
under dunkelt loft.

Allt det svårmodstunga, osägbara
i naturen strömmar från din mund.
Vita blomma, du dess tolk vill vara
denna korta stund.

Mänskobarn, som här i natten vankar,
kanske gäller talet också dig;
lägg dig ned med dina kvalda tankar
här vid daggig stig!

Ställd inför din egen levnads gåta,
dunkel väv av drömmar och begär,
göm din kind i detta gräs, det våta -
ingen ser det här. 

(Carl Snoilsky, 1841-1903 - Count, diplomat, and centre of a brilliant literary movement in Stockholm in the 1860s. A much loved and very influential poet in Sweden.)

Mute is life’s murmur and the forest’s voices,
dew drips stilly from leaf to leaf,
no red streak in the east -
a meadow in moonlight.

It’s here in the silence you speak,
you  white flower, and your speech is fragrance.
Your fragrance wanders over pale valleys
under dim sky.

All the weight of melancholy, the unsayable
in nature flows from your mouth.
White flower, you’ll be its interpreter
this short while.

Man-child, who wanders here at night,
perhaps the speech concerns  you also;
lie down with your tormented thoughts
here on the dewy path!

Blank before your own life’s  riddle,
a dim weave of dreams and desires,
hide your cheek in the grass, the wet;
here no one sees.

(quick translation based on Google Translate)

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