An Evening Primrose grows outside our window.
If to look at its origins, on the other side of the world somewhere in Mexico, this plant seems like it would be wildly out of place in Belarus. Its journey here took many centuries. As humans migrated southward from the Bering landbridge, this flowering creature was flown north as seeds with the birds that pioneered and colonized the emerging plains of North America just behind the receding Laurentian Glacier. After Columbus and Cortes opened the colonization of Spanish North America, seeds migrated in ballast for the great galleons taking Zacatecas silver back to Spain.
It’s amusing to consider that just as my ancestors were settling in colonies within the New World, this plant was emerging in little Evening Primrose colonies back in the Old World, in cities like Cadiz, La Rochelle, Rotterdam, and London. The ancestor of the plant outside our window may even have passed from the mouth of the Delaware River to Stockholm, or on an 18th century Courland trading ship carrying goods back to Riga. After arriving, as with any species entering a new environment, it developed in a slightly different direction, genetically, from the Evening Primrose that remained in North America.
In some countries, the plant is considered an invasive species. That term brings up to me an image of kudzu smothering the abandoned plantations of the Old South of the United States, or Himalayan blackberry bushes pushing on the edges of lawns in the suburbs where I grew up near Seattle. I’m not so sure that the comparison is fair though. The arrival of this plant in Ostrovets is probably more along the lines of the migration of the potato or the arrival of wild apples – indeed, along with these other plants celebrated in Michael Pollan’s book “The Botany of Desire”, this flower has demonstrated its commercial viability in the West.
The Evening Primrose is grown by some for its medicinal properties. Many indigenous tribes in what is today the United States have used the flowering plant to treat wounds and correct digestion problems. The U.S. National Institutes of Health have declared that the plant is probably effective in combating osteoporosis (when combined with calcium and fish oil supplements) and providing relief for milder forms of cyclical breast pain or mastalgia. Though it isn’t recommended for pregnant women, breast-feeding women are given a tentative okay to use it, after they consult with a physician.
For our family, the arrival of this plant almost seems like God’s way of acknowledging our daughter, Albina, and her little brother-to-come. As with this odd flower, their ancestry is also, in part, North American, from both Mexico and the United States. Someday, the flower might go so far as to serve the benefit of our community, but for now, we simply admire it over evening tea and morning coffee. This is much the same as with our daughter and her future brother. We have admired our daughter’s beauty and growing intelligence, and of course her ever-strengthening will. But someday, our beautiful human primroses, like the yellow flowers that open into a bloom every evening in our garden, may prove to be a more clearly concrete benefit to the community that surround them. I guess it really depends on what course in life we encourage them along.