Plants receive little attention in Frank Kingdon-Ward’s (1913) The Land of the Blue Poppy, the book he wrote about the first plant collecting expedition he led to mountains of southern China. I was surprised by the little attention he gives in the early chapters I read last night to botanizing or even to the plants he sees. His attention during his earliest weeks in the mountains was consumed by baggage, porters, French priests, local people (“wonderfully pretty” Moso girls), river canyons, and rope bridges (“not properly a bridge at all” and the “rope” consisted of twisted strands of bamboo). There were few plants until young Kingdon-Ward went up a hill to hunt for pheasants. He wandered over the hilltops and into a valley, where he picked-up a trail and began walking back to camp; except, he was lost. Dusk brought rain, and he spent a cold, wet night “curling up like a cat” at the edge of forest. The next morning he took another wrong path; when he settled from the shock of the repeated wrong choices, he turned to the flowers:
“There were a few anemones in flower on the grassy slopes, looking very miserable in the driving snow, besides numerous rhododendrons on the edges of the forest; and I remembered with glee that at the base of each rhododendron corolla was a big drop of honey. However, after sucking a score of flowers without obtaining much nourishment, I started eating the whole thing which, though glutinous and insipid, was not altogether nasty.”
Kingdon-Ward retraced his steps, began to formulate a better plan, when he recognized that “the rhodendron corollas had given me a violent pain in the stomach.”
This deleterious rhodo-phagi made me think of loto-phagi, and I turned my attention to Tennyson:
The charmed sunset linger’d low adown
In the red West; thro’ mountain clefts the dale
Was seen far inland, and the yellow down
Border’d with palm, and many a winding vale
And meadow, set with slender galingale;
A land where all things always seem’d the same!
And round about the keel with faces pale,
Dark faces pale against that rosy flame,
The mild-eyed melancholy Lotos-eaters came.
I shall read more Kingdon-Ward tonight to see where the allusions lead me.