A Plant Study by Elizabeth Heyns
One of the highlights of the FES Practitioner Training program is a field trip to the Sierra wildflower meadows. There, participants have an opportunity to begin one of the key assignments in the training program: learning how to see the physical and metaphysical characteristics of a plant. In this way, a new level of appreciation can be gained for the ways in which the living qualities of a plant translate into the healing energies we experience when taking the flower essence.
We feature here a study of the Corn Lily, Veratrum californicum, which is one of the leading FES research essences. It has proven especially effective for women facing the emotional and physical challenges of mid-life, including menopause. Elizabeth (Lilly) Heyns, a research and clinical psychologist from Tepoztlan, Mexico, has had a long interest in the challenges of mid-life, and is engaged in clinical research documenting the effects of flower essence therapy for these issues. (Look for a detailed report in Calix.)
Following are some edited excerpts from Lilly's observations of the Corn Lily during our Practitioner Training in July, 2002, as well as a story she wrote that epitomizes the healing message of the Corn Lily flower essence. — Editor
My Attraction to the Corn Lily
I was instantly attracted to the Corn Lily. It was telling me, "Please work on me. Don't forget me. I'm the right flower for you." I was excited to see the flower, and to know that it would help women in menopause. But there was more: The plant itself looked so full that I felt instantly embraced by her warmth. Another awesome feature that took my attention was that most of the leaves were full of holes. "This plant," I thought, "not only brings warmth, but also feeds others with herself."
Overview: "Tall as a Person"
The Corn Lily is a large plant. It can grow as high as six feet, as tall as a person. It has two distinct parts: the round pear- shaped bottom, formed by a round base of fresh green leaves, and the head of feathery flowers. Its stem is thick, fibrous, rough, ribbed, and very much vertical, connecting both parts of the plant. The flowers are very small, considering the large leaves and the size of the plant. The plant points in two directions: toward the earth with its grounded, round foliage, and toward the sky with all its flowering stems that point upward.
The plants were always found growing in groups, as "families," with young plants about two feet tall and older plants with their beautiful flowering heads. The young plants I saw had leaves growing from the base to the top.
The leaves on the bottom of the plant are big (18 x 6 inches) and ovate, reminding us of corn leaves because they are parallel ribbed. The upper leaves, which are younger and smaller, are also less rounded and ovate.
The flowers were beautiful: When you are far away you see dense stands, with white plumes filled with thousands of white flowers, above a full base of surrounding leaves. Coming closer, you can see how the leaves become much smaller, and then alternate branches with flowers appear, all crowded into panicles in the upper one-foot length of stalk.
The flowers are small, the biggest having a two-inch diameter. They have six regular, smooth-edged tepals (petals and sepals). At the base of the tepal you find a V-shaped green spot. The flowers grow alternately on stems, which also grow alternately on the stalk. They are open at the base of the stem, allowing you to see buds still closed at the tip. In the middle of the flower you can see its ovary with the pistil, from which six filaments grow and show rounded yellow anthers on their tips. These grow brown when old. The flowers have the characteristic six-pointed star shape found in members of the Lily Family.
Earth, Water, Air, and Fire
The plant presents the four elements. It grows near marshy, wet meadows, so Water is present. Water is also present in the fresh green color of the leaves and stalk. The way in which the leaves grow reminds one of a torch, so the movement of the leaves also relates to Fire. Also, the brown color of the parts of the plant that grow old have a relation to Fire. Air seems to be present between the leaves and the flowers, because of the space between the base and the head, which is like an intermission. Finally, Earth is present in the big, voluptuous, grounded structure of the plant, with leaves that grow directly from the ground.
The plant inspired these thoughts:
A Lily with Black Roots
A member of the Lily (Liliaceae) Family, Corn Lily shares some of the family's general characteristics: it is herbaceous and fibrous with ribbed leaves, and has a preference for the regular six-pointed star.
"Veratrum" means "dark roots." It comes from the Latin name vere ("truly") and ater ("black"), from the color of the roots. It is sometimes called "False Hellebore" after the Christmas rose (Helleborus niger) because of its toxic roots. However, the Helleborus species are members of the Buttercup Family (Ranunculaceae), and the Veratrum species is part of the Lily (Liliaceae) Family. Veratrum californicum is related to the more widely known Veratrum album, which is distinguished by its yellow-white flowers.
Corn Lily has been reported as poisonous, the roots and young shoots being considered the most toxic. As the plant grows and matures, however, it becomes less toxic, and is usually considered harmless after a frost.
Earth and Heaven
The physical characteristics of the plant that appear repeatedly show us its signature: the green color, the veins, and the alternating pattern of the leaves, stem, and flowers. The overall gesture of the plant is that it is large and steady on the ground, with voluptuous, round, heavy foliage and a small head of hundreds of flowers that grow out of the leaves, leaving them behind and pointing to the sky: Earth and heaven seem to be present in the plant.
Corn Lily Veratrum californicum
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