Confederates in full bloom

Published 1:30 am Saturday, November 1, 2014

One of my favorite plants, the Confederate rose, also known as cotton rose mallow, is in bloom around town. The blossom emerges white, but as the day wears on, it changes to pink, then to deep rose, and gradually folds into itself by nightfall. I have noticed that if the weather is cool, the blossoms sometimes last longer. I always enjoyed watching bumblebees visiting the blooms and emerging covered with the yellow pollen from the center. At times, they hovered so slowly over them, I wondered if they were intoxicated by it.

I became fascinated by the Confederate rose years ago when someone brought a bouquet to The Onlooker newspaper office in Foley. When my mother came to live in the Lillian Methodist parsonage with my husband and me, she planted one beside the back patio. It flourished, eventually towering higher than the roof of the house. Every year about this time, it bloomed profusely, allowing me an opportunity to share the fascinating blossoms. One morning, I placed one in water on the counter at The Onlooker for my co-workers and customers who came in to enjoy. When one of the employees who was in and out of the office several times every day, breezed in near closing time, she stopped short to look at the deep rose bloom that was about to fold itself up. “I would have sworn that flower was white when I left here this morning,” she declared. Several other people asked about the change it underwent. It not only gave pleasure to those who saw it, but it was fun to watch people’s reaction to the changes throughout the day.

If any wine (grape juice) was left over at church on Holy Communion Sundays or any other special services with Communion, my husband brought it to the parsonage and poured it on the roots of the Confederate rose plant. Was the plant’s healthy height and rich fullness because of the small portion of Communion wine it received periodically? My husband always attributed it to that.

Our daughter’s Confederate rose cutting from our plant lived a couple of years in their yard in Tuscaloosa. Following an extremely cold winter, her husband, thinking the plant was dead, pulled it up and threw it away, except for one branch. He used it to prop up a houseplant. A short time later, they discovered the branch had rooted. Fresh, green new life sprouted from the supposedly dead branch.

It reminded me of the old legend of a clergyman who found a twisted branch of a thorn tree that to him resembled a crown of thorns. He considered it a symbol of Christ’s crucifixion, so he placed it on the altar in the chapel on Good Friday. On Easter Sunday morning, feeling it was inappropriate for that day, he hurried to the chapel to remove it before the congregation gathered for the service. To his surprise, he found the thorn bush blossoming with beautiful roses.