What's In A Name?
Robert G. Shanklin, Old Lyme, Connecticut
Traveling the ninety miles from White Plains, New York to Old Lyme, Connecticut on the Connecticut Turnpike each Friday evening and returning at five o'clock on Monday morning for five years made us familiar with practically every plant and tree along the highway. We knew just the angle from which to observe the colony of May apples (Podophyllum peltatum) in Guilford; just where the dogwoods (Cornus florida) began to show the tinge of delicate pink between Westbrook and Old Saybrook (there are many natural pink dogwoods in the Saybrook - Old Lyme area); and where the few scattered groups of the Pinxterbloom azalea (R. nudiflorum) grew, half hidden in the rocky cuts from Madison eastward to Old Lyme. Each year we noted with concern that there were fewer and fewer groups of azaleas and in our own town of Old Lyme, colony after colony disappeared under the onslaught of the real estate promoter and builder. Several times, after overcoming some strange reluctance to ask the direct question, we were too late in asking to buy and dig a few plants as they had been bulldozed out of existence.
Many searches of our own place produced only one find - a large plant of R. nudiflorum about ten feet high and fairly bushy - all alone in the oak woods in a rather clamp area. No volunteer seedlings were to be found, although a group of several dozen plants of the Swamp azalea (R. viscosum) was found only twenty feet away on the bank of a brook.
About the time of the discovery of the Swamp azaleas, the road contractor began to build a road into our place. He, curious about the rhododendrons in the lath house (built before our own home), asked what those things were. We told him that they were rhododendrons and azaleas and asked him if he had ever seen any growing wild in the countryside.
"Oh, sure," he said. "Come up to my place and you can have all you can dig. Their flowers are right pretty." With mounting excitement we put shovels, burlaps and other paraphernalia in the car and went on the hunt for the 'right pretty' plants. We arrived, to find, not rhodies but a magnificent stand of Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia). Trying not to seem too disappointed, we inquired further about the the possible location of azaleas or other similar plants.
"I think I know what you mean," our friend finally said. "What you're looking for are 'swamp apples'. There's lots of them down around my gravel pit. Help yourself."
After losing ourselves a few times we arrived at the gravel pit, and there were the 'swamp apples', colony after colony rimming the excavation, all in full bloom, ranging from pure white to a rather deep and pleasing pink. Thinking that the pinks might be R. roseum, we examined them carefully but all appeared to be the Pinxterbloom, - the lack of the clove-like scent being the most obvious difference. We selected a dozen of the best forms and colors of the 'swamp apples' and in the process, found a dividend, a single pink lady slipper (Cypripedium acaule) nodding in lonely grandeur.
Our 'swamp apples' have been cut back and, hopefully, will bloom again in another year or so. Just a short time ago, inadvertent disclosure of the preservation of the Pinxterbloom azaleas to a friend of many years and a life-long resident of the area evoked the reply, "Why, those aren't azaleas, they're 'swamp apples'!" So be it, - our garden will be embellished with a dozen Old Lyme 'Swamp Apples'.