THROUGH THE WOODS: Dames Rocket For Decoration Day

Photo by Nancy Jane Kern

MEMORIAL DAY IS THE TIME FOR HONORING and remembering those who have passed on and those who have served in our Armed Forces to make our country the wonderful nation it is today. There is so much negativity in the media we sometimes forgot how much has been sacrificed to give us so many things. We often take it for granted and we shouldn’t.

When we have our holiday weekend and barbecues to kick off the summer and enjoy family gatherings, we need to pause and remember who made this all possible. My father always referred to Memorial Day as Decoration Day. This name for the holiday began after the Civil War, when children and later adults across the country placed flowers and “decorations” on the graves of our soldiers to remember their sacrifices. Toward the end of the 1800’s people gradually started calling it Memorial Day, and then especially after WWII, all family members were remembered whether they had served or not.

Memorial Day, the last Monday of May, was declared the official name of the federal holiday in 1967. Flags are raised to full staff in the morning and then immediately and solemnly lowered to half staff until noon, then fully raised again for the rest of the day.

My grandmother was born in the 1800s and her family, according to the custom of the time, would treat cemeteries as parks. It was often a place to bring the whole family to remember loved ones, and family picnics might be held there. When we were small she would go with us to several family cemeteries and we were taught proper behavior. We had to be quiet and respectful and not walk on the graves, and we did have some refreshments. Before cars, it was probably necessary to pack a picnic meal on one of these excursions. Travel by horse and carriage would be much slower, and no fast food places were available.

My family always placed geraniums on our family plots and I do my best to continue the tradition. Interest in doing this seems to be dwindling in our family and I hope some younger family members will carry on. It shows we remember and care, and it looks so nice to see the cemeteries mown and “decorated.” I also love to see all the markers and flags placed on the graves by caring veterans and other organizations. Nature has added its own contribution to this time of year with the beautiful flowering displays of dames rocket. Highways and borders of fields are covered with banks and clumps of phlox-like flowers in many shades of purples, pinks, and whites.

I suspect that highway department equipment has spread the plants’ seeds to almost every roadside. The dames rocket grows about 2’-3’ tall, the 1” flowers have 4 petals each, and it belongs to the mustard family. Our garden phlox has flowers with 5 petals and are not as invasive as dames rocket.

Several states have banned the sale of dames rocket seed because it can force out native plant species.

Dames rocket was introduced from Europe, is considered an herb, was used as a salad green and often used to counteract scurvy. Thomas Jefferson cultivated it, so it has been in our country for many years. It may be invasive, but it sure is a lovely addition to our Memorial Day Weekend, and if you pass it in the evening it also adds a light, sweet scent to the air.

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