Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0014361, Wed, 13 Dec 2006 16:10:40 -0500

Royal Weeds (JF to MR)
Matt Roth wrote:

> I can, however, explain my
> claim that willow herb is aka purple loosestrife. Though I agree
> that, by contemporary standards, this is incorrect, I got this
> information from my copy of Webster's 2nd, in which the second
> definition for willow herb is "the Loosestrife Lythrum salicaria."
> This is indeed purple loosestrife.

I now see from Wikipedia that purple loosestrife looks a lot
like fireweed (or rosebay willow-herb, as the British call
it). Both, to answer your question in a later post, are very
pretty. But purple loosestrife lives in wetlands, which wouldn't
include "the top of the hill" that's a good site for a barn. On
the other hand, fireweed is a perfect colonizer for such a
spot. It may not be an invader from Europe, but it does at
least have a different name in Britain, like "cedars" (junipers)
and complementary to the two robins.

> Likewise, milkweed is defined
> in Webster's 2nd as "any spurge, esp. the flowering spurge."
> So you see, my errors were in fact Webster's 2nd's errors (if
> errors they be).

I wondered about that--I should have said something. (And I
didn't think calling milkweed spurge was /your/ error.)

Anyway, thank you for your calm response to what may have
seemed an overly critical post--though I didn't mean it that
way, and should have said that I think you're right about
the milkweed as the host for monarch butterflies.

> This begs the question, of course, as to whether
> VN would have relied on his dictionary for botanical definitions.
> Being a lepidopterist, he surely had a deeper knowledge of these
> plants. Then again, being a transplant to America, and having
> written PF in Europe, he may have used his dictionary to confirm
> certain botanical details.
> As for goldenrod blooming in June, this is surely erroneous. (Recall
> that VN insisted that CK's comments on the native flora were full
> of errors.) While there are many kinds of goldenrod, all of them
> bloom only in late summer and early fall.

That's what I thought, thanks. But are you suggesting that
Kinbote might have identified some other yellow-flowered plant
as goldenrod? That would be an egregious error, especially for
someone who presumably learned plant names from Shade, who
was probably reliable on that subject. I suppose I might have
confused purple loosestrife with fireweed at some point, but
every American knows goldenrod. (Slight exaggeration.)

> The contrast between the
> goldenrod and the butterfly plants is made more interesting when
> you know that goldenrod is a very American plant. It is the state
> flower of three states. The square of purple plants surrounded by
> the goldenrod is, then, a nice visual metaphor of Kinbote's invasive
> appearance in the life and work of that very American poet John Shade.

It can't possibly be relevant that the Canadian goldenrod (also
found throughout the U.S.) is an invasive plant in Europe, can it?

Jerry Friedman

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