Searching for Arbutus

19-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Sunday, April 5, 1914: We went for arbutus this afternoon, but only managed to find the buds. It is late this spring. Went to church this evening and then home.

Trailing Arbutus

Trailing Arbutus

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Grandma’s cousin Alma Derr was visiting for a few days, so the “we” probably refers to Grandma, Alma, and perhaps Grandma’s sister Ruth.

Years ago it was a common spring activity for people go out into the woods and pick trailing arbutus.

Grandma seemed to really enjoyed searching for arbutus with friends and family members, because she also mentioned it in previous years in the diary.

Carrie Stout was over this afternoon. We went to gather dandelions, and worked awhile, then went to hunt for trailing arbutus in the woods. We didn’t get any though for it was just beginning to come out. But we found some wintergreen and mountain pinks.

April 13, 1911


Besse was out this afternoon. We three kids went for arbutus and I got some this time. . .

April 15, 1911


. . . Carrie and I went for arbutus and wound up by taking a walk. . .

April 28, 1912

29 Responses

  1. Was the arbutus for decoration or did it serve another purpose?

  2. Perhaps it filled a room with the beautiful fragrance of spring.

  3. I THINK the only other time I’ve heard of arbutus was in previous posts here. We must not have it in our area…! It’s very pretty.

    • The plant is also sometimes called Mayflower, and you may know it by that name. But, my general sense is that it is very difficult to find today. An unintended consequence of people gathering it years ago, is that it was over-gathered it in many locations, and has become almost extinct in some areas.

  4. Maybe it made a good transplant for the home garden. I love it that bears get drunk on the fruit! though!

  5. What a pretty little flower!
    Diana xo

  6. Hi. We have it here, known as ‘mayflowers’, no chance of finding it until all this snow is gome. The fragrance is amazing. Jane

    • It’s awesome that you still have it in your area. Today, it’s pretty rare in many areas. I hope that your snow will be gone soon.

  7. Sounds like a wonderful springtime tradition.

  8. Reminds me of the years when my best friend and I used to go to Lautenbach’s farm and, with their permission, pick bouquets of violets for our mom’s on mother’s day. She always managed to pick a bigger bouquet. What a lovely sweet tradition.

    • You commented reminded me of how I also enjoyed picking violets when I was a child. I can remember bringing them into the house, and my mother would put them in a tiny bud vase.

  9. Must have meant spring to them. We used to go searching for Trillium. Never saw Arbutus though–at least if I did I didn’t know it.

    • When spring finally arrives, after be cooped up during the winter months, we all need rituals and traditions that get us out of the house. :)

  10. hmm … Is this the flower that grows close to the ground that we used to collect to put in the may baskets we made from wallpaper samples and left on the doorsteps of people we cared about? (Oh how sweetly camp.)

    • Your comment brings back memories of using wallpaper samples to make crafts then I was a child. My favorite craft was to use the paper to make hearts for Valentine’s Day.

      • Oh my! Your blog is such a fun trip down memory lane. And I love that “accordion” feel, as if we have moved back into your grandma’s life and are living it with her. (That’s what I’m hoping to do for my father and family with “My Father’s House.)

        • I like the way you describe this blog as having an accordion feel. I think (and my sense is that you do too) that it’s more meaningful and fun to write about the past when I relate it to my reaction to the entry and the current context.

  11. It’s so pretty and delicate! :)

  12. […] previous Sunday (April 5) Grandma, her sister Ruth, and their friend Carrie Stout also searched for trailing […]

  13. very pretty. Amazing what pops up in a forest without TLC from anyone.

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