Thursday, April 5, 2018

"Kendall's Fancy" -- The Lucasville Bluebell of Fact and Legend


But when I looked upon the bank
My wandering glances fell
Upon a little trembling flower,
A single sweet bluebell.
    Anne Bronte
In 1991, Nell Bumgarner wrote a simple account of a flower in A Backward Glance, Volume II published by the Lucasville Area Historical Society. I know that Nell adored the woods and loved to share her in-depth knowledge about local natural settings. She feared such knowledge was being lost. She once wrote …

What, oh what, has come to pass? No wonder our world is in such a sorry state. Children, and even grown-ups, stare blankly when I ask – in earnest and really wanting to know – 'Are the deer-tongues in bloom?' Maybe a grown-up might seem more comprehending after rephrasing of the question: 'Have you noticed any dog-toothed violets blooming yet?' Not a violet at all, 'trout-lily' in proper parlance. Yet where can I find one single person who cares? Once queen of the sciences, botany has been exiled to the status of castaway.”

This precious gift of botanical knowledge was largely bestowed upon Nell by her father, Benjamin Yeager, and, of course, she loved sharing that interest with Guy, her doting husband. I will never forget how she expressed to me the importance of possessing such wisdom. After talking with Nell, I began to be much more aware of the charge to understand our own natural settings.

Getting back to that flower, here is the entry ...

About a century and a half ago in Lucasville, a flower, so fragrant and so sweet in appearance with its thick, light green leaves, growing about ten or twelve inches to blooming in early spring, was called by interested natives 'Kendall's Fancy.' In its initiation from woodland to the growing community, it was discovered in its native habitat by William Kendall Jones, son of David and Rachel White Jones. Kendall, or 'Ken' as he was commonly known, was attracted to its modest appearance and delicate fragrance.

He gathered up a plant and transferred it to the yard of his wife, Rachel Morgan Jones, daughter of Thomas and Rachel McDougal Morgan. They lived in the two-story structure on the corner of U.S. Route 23 and Scioto Street, a home later owned by Young's. As time rolled on, the flower's popularity rose, and many of Lucasville's citizens had what would simply come to be known as 'The Bluebell' in their gardens and flower beds.”


Now believe me, I searched and searched for this particular variety of flower. I could find no reference to “Kendall's Fancy” anywhere. But, as often happens when researching one topic, other pertinent information springs to the fore that warrants examination. I found a mountain of information about the bluebell. I want to share it with you. I hope Mrs. Bumgarner approves of my entry is she chooses to view the blog from her heavenly seat.

Campanula rotundifolia – commonly known as the Bluebell, the Bluebell Bellflower, the Harebell, the Bluebell-of-Scotland, the Blue Rain Flower, Heathbells, or Witches Thimbles – is a flower that grows naturally in wooded areas of the United States, in USDA zones 3 to 8. Native to England and Scotland, the bluebell is a perennial plant named for the shape of the flower which looks like a tiny bell. These flowers grow in clusters and are usually, but not always, blue as the name implies. Bluebells can be a creamy, off-white color. The cream-colored bluebell is rarely found in nature. This plant has long stems and narrow leaves. It grows to be 12 to 18 inches tall.

The presence of bluebells helps identify ancient woodland – what Americans call “old-growth forest” – that has existed continuously since the middle ages. Before about 1600, planting of new woodland was rare, so woodland that was present at that time was likely to have grown naturally. Since bluebells flourish in natural woodland, they are a very easy way to identify ancient woodlands that could be of special scientific or historical interest.

Different Types of Bluebells:
    * Hyacinthoides non-scripta, grows in woodlands and in other shady places.
    * Hyacinthoides hispanica, also known as the Spanish bluebell shows up in gardens and can grow out in the countryside.
    * Hyacinthoides x massartiana is a common hybrid.
Winter is not here yet. There’s a little flower, up yonder, the last bud from the multitude of bluebells that clouded those turf steps in July with a lilac mist. Will you clamber up and pluck it to show papa?”

--Emily Bronte, from Wuthering Heights

The essence of the bluebell is said to bring a calmness, clarity and reconnection to our unique selves. How would one describe the scent of Bluebells? With great difficulty. Their scent cannot be distilled naturally like lily of the valley or lilac. Despite this, ever-fashionable perfumer Jo Malone has created a new fragrance called Wild Bluebell Cologne, which the manufacturer claims “evokes a morning walk in the woods, but is given a sexy new twist with the addition of jasmine and musk.” That sounds like a marketer's nondescript sales puffery to me.

However, Naturalist Matthew Oates tells us that flowers concentrate more energy on breeding during a drought rather than growing succulent stems. This means they produce more nectar and therefore scent in order to attract pollinators. "Bluebells smell best in warm and still weather," Oates says. "Also the plants make more reproductive effort when they are actually stressed to attract pollinating insects." That's a beginning to some olfactory understanding of this sweet flower.

The true scent? “We love native bluebells for their wonderful scent of cooking apple, mango, lychees, ginger and freshly mown grass, but that plant is in real danger,” says Dr Trevor Dines, a botanist for Plantlife. In truth, it appears that the actual smell of bluebells is an odoriferous mix-up of sweetness. Let's leave it at that.

A fine and subtle spirit dwells
In every little flower,
Each one its own sweet feeling breathes
With more or less of power.
There is a silent eloquence
In every wild bluebell
That fills my softened heart with bliss
That words could never tell.

--From “The Bluebell” by Anne Bronte

The popular flower has long symbolized humility – probably because of the way the bell shaped flowers bow down on the flower spike. The shape does resemble a nodding heard. Thus, it is easy to see how the bluebell is associated with constancy, gratitude and everlasting love. 

As bluebells begin to bloom towards the end of April, they have been long associated with St. George as that saint's day falls on the 23rd of June. Saint George, according to legend, was a Roman soldier of Greek and Palestinian origin and an officer in the Guard of Roman emperor Diocletian. He was sentenced to death for refusing to recant his Christian faith. Indeed, through his actions, George became a humble, venerated saint -- the bluebell being a seemingly appropriate symbol of the man.

Swedish botanist named Carl Linnaeus named the British Bluebell “Hyacinthoides non-scripta,” which basically means an “unmarked” hyacinth—to distinguish it from its classical ancestor of Greek mythology. In Greek Mythology, Hyacinths were said to spring from the blood of the dying Hyacinthus. The god Apollo shed tears that marked the flower’s petals with the mournful letters “AIAI” (“alas”) as a sign of his grief.

Considerable risk was believed to be associated with the flowers. In folklore, bluebells are closely linked to the realm of fairies and are sometimes referred to as "fairy thimbles." Should anyone ever want to summon the fairies, all they had to do was ring the plant as if it were an actual bell. But, on the other hand, if any unfortunate soul should ever actually hear the bluebells ringing, then this was a sign that their or a loved one’s time on earth would very soon end – thus, the name “Dead Man's Bells.” It is also lore that fairies were believed to cast spells on those who dare to pick or damage the beautiful, delicate flowers.

The realms of superstition record it was considered very unlucky to bring bluebells into the houses of anyone who kept poultry. If a person dare to ignore this advice, they would soon find a shortage of chicks, ducklings, etc. The reason being that the eggs simply would not hatch out.

Bluebells are widely known as “harebells” in Scotland. The name originated due to the hares that frequented the fields covered with harebells. Some sources claim that witches turned themselves into hares to hide among the flowers.

Don't pick bluebells? That is more than superstition to plucking the flowers in the United Kingdom. In 1998 the bluebell was included in the amended Countryside and Wildlife Act. It listed common bluebells as protected, and trade in their seeds and bulbs is prohibited without a special permit.The Common English Bluebell is a beloved treasure of Britain where its presence is said to indicate the ancientness of a forest.

Bluebells by Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema, 1899

Like most plants, bluebells have a medicinal history. Though little used in modern medicine, the bulb of the bluebell has diuretic and styptic properties. Dried and powdered, it has been used as a styptic for leucorrhoea, and Tennyson speaks of bluebell juice being used to cure snake-bite.“In the month when earth and sky are one, To squeeze the bluebell ‘gainst the adder’s bite.” Folk medicine uses the bulbs as a remedy to help stop bleeding.

The bulbs are poisonous in their fresh state. The viscid juice, also existing in every part of the plant, has been used as a substitute for starch, and “in the days when stiff ruffs were worn was much in request.” The only problem with this was that because it is also highly irritant the poor laundresses often developed painful sores, not to mention the discomfort of those who wore the fashion. From its gummy character, it was also employed as bookbinders' gum. In addition, it was also reportedly used as a fletching glue for setting feathers upon arrows.

The Bluebell is the sweetest flower
That waves in summer air:
Its blossoms have the mightiest power
To soothe my spirit’s care.

From “The Bluebell” by Emily Bronte

The bluebell is easy to care for and spreads rapidly under the right conditions. This flower is a favorite of hummingbirds because of the shape of its blooms. The long, narrow flowers create the perfect cup for a hummingbird from which to take nectar.

The bluebell prefers partial sun with some shade in the afternoon. They do well when planted with ferns and other woodland plants. These plants do best when kept moist, so water them daily. Bluebells are useful for keeping the pest nematodes (a roundworm) under control.

I may not have found references to “Kendall's Fancy,” but thanks to Nell Bumgarner, I have found a wealth of information about the beautiful bluebell. Perhaps this entry will entice some folks to step into the woods and do some firsthand natural exploration. I am sure she would love to know that her historical entry inspired a few new walks in the woods. As Dr. Robert Emerson French noted in the volume Lucasville Lore, “My Aunt Nell probably isn't like yours. She's a peculiar person: distinguished in nature, not ordinary, eccentric, and sometimes contrary, yet dear and quite special to me!” That she was and that her memory will thankfully forever be.

This earth is one great temple, made
For worship everywhere;
The bells are flowers in sun and shade
Which ring the heart to prayer.
The city bell takes seven days
To reach the townsman’s ear;
But he who kneels in Nature’s ways
Hath Sabbath all the year.”

From “The Ministry of May” by Thomas K. Hervey


“9 Fascinating Facts About Bluebells — England’s Favorite Wild Flower.” Britain and Britishness.

Athlyn Green. “Bluebell Flowers: Beautiful and Whimsical Perennials.” September 25, 2017.

Jamie Merrill. “Britain's bluebells now face a fight for their very survival.” Independent. April 25, 2015.

Louise Gray Short. “Sparse Seasons for the bluebells – though they will smell glorious. Telegaph. 

No comments: