Picking Trailing Arbutus with Friends

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

Thursday, April 30, 1914:  But we went today and got all we cared to carry home. It is quite a distance and my legs ache by this time.

Trailing Arbutus (Mayflower)
Trailing Arbutus (Mayflower)

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

I’m guessing that Grandma and some of her friends picked lots of training arbutus. Two days prior to this entry she wrote:

Was going for trailing arbutus this afternoon, but the other girls didn’t have time to go, so it’s postponed til tomorrow.

It apparently took two days to actually get the group together to pick arbutus.

Trailing arbutus are also called mayflowers. Several years ago when Grandma wrote about gathering trailing arbutus, I found a description at The Write Way about what it was like to pick them. It’s still the best description I’ve ever seen, so I’m going to repeat it here:

I have such crisp memories of picking wild mayflowers with my brother. Scrounging around on the sun-splashed forest floor, moving decaying leaves with our bare hands to find a delicately scented flower smaller than a dime.

Trailing arbutus are not easy to find; their flowers tend to hide under the leaves. It takes quite a few flowers to make even a small bunch, but they were worth it.

Brenda Visser

28 thoughts on “Picking Trailing Arbutus with Friends

  1. What a lovely blog you have! And that sweet flower! I have never seen one here in England and how lovely that you have such a connection with the thoughts and words of your Grandmother. It makes for a charming and poignant dialogue.-Karen.

    1. I’m glad you enjoy it. I have a lot of fun doing the research and pulling the posts together, and its always wonderful to hear when someone likes it.

  2. Were they collecting the flower because it was pretty and smelled good or did it also have some other value, like medicinal? She seems so intent on finding it . . .

    1. I think that it was because they were pretty–though another reader (Jim in IA) found a link which says that arbutus did have some medicinal uses.

  3. Was it a spring tradition to collect them? We’re finally having some spring conditions here and even the lowest or grumpiest people are standing taller and have a bounce in their step!
    Diana xo

    1. Yes, I think that it was a spring tradition. Grandma mentioned going out to look for trailing arbutus each of the four years in the diary.

      I’m standing a little taller–though we’ve had a cold rain all week which has reduced the bounce in my step. 🙂

    1. Thank you for finding the wonderful links. The post on the Eat the Weeds site is awesome. I especially liked the lines about how collecting arbutus was a “primal” experience:

      The collecting was more primal. After a long, hard winter we just took the green and fragrant plants home as a reminder of spring. In fact, my mother had her favorite Mayflower haunts and we would visit them all in the course of the short season. She picked them because her mother picked them as did her mother’s mother.”

  4. I’ve never heard about trailing arbutus. If my mother were still alive I’d ask her about it. She was always talking about picking this wildflower or that as a child. Lovely thoughts here.

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