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Painting of wild flowers

On the Discreet Beauty of Wild Flowers (And an Enchanting Book Dedicated to Them)


Paradoxically, the most common of wild flowers lead a spectacular existence. This 19th-century catalog is dedicated to them...

Discretion is likely one of the virtues most powerful. Within the plant kingdom, its most charming example is in wild flowers, beings which often go unnoticed but which, despite their insistent presence, we seldom attend. One old botany book, published in 1878, Familiar Wild Flowers by F. Edward Hulme, provides a remedy. A professor of drawing and an aficionado of botany, Hulme knew how to celebrate certain plants (those he’d dubbed “family friends”) in a catalog that shines for its simplicity and charm.

The book includes descriptions and illustrations of a tremendous number of the wild flowers which grew in the England of the time. And despite having been written more than a century ago, the descriptions —detailed and clear— still serve to distinguish many of the flowers who live this humble and silent life amongst us. It’s a life seldom celebrated as are the lives of the flowers raised by people, rare and exotic as they are, and nearly always receiving the lion’s share of attention and the compliments.

Paining of a field rose

Every chapter of Familiar Wild Flowers is dedicated to a meticulously described type of flower. Its scientific name, morphology, and the regions where it grows are all provided, as are the conditions it needs to live, and the variations in each species. Every section begins with an illustration of the flower and a capitular letter with related plant details. Sections close with another illustration —a reminder of a graphic style that adorned so many books of the time.

Hulme’s book, in the infinite simplicity it shares with wild flowers themselves, is captivating. In the end, it’s a book on some of the most resistant, durable, and persistent of plants. For its humility, its inadvertent quality, it can only invite us to pay a bit more attention, and thus, this botanical account pays a tribute, resplendent with poetry, to wildflowers’ remarkable discretion.

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