• By Janine Pineo •
Sometimes even I am trendy, although I don’t usually find out until the parade has swept by.
I never would have guessed, however, that the trend would be to plant a myrtle.
Myrtus communis isn’t exactly a Maine-friendly plant since it likes the warmer environs of Georgia and Florida, so I must have had myrtle-on-the-brain syndrome when I picked one up in May.
My subconscious surely heard that the latest royal bride was carting a piece of myrtle down the aisle in April, accompanied by vague commentator mutterings about planting myrtle and finding true love.
Being the trendsetter that I am, I jumped on that myrtle plant when I saw it.
Well, that’s one version.
If I recall my thinking at the time of purchase, it was that I liked its shape and color and thought it would make a nice addition to my office plants when fall arrives. Maybe I’d even write about myrtle since I had never grown one before and knew next to nothing about it.
How was I to know that it’s tradition for a royal bride to carry a sprig of myrtle in her royal bouquet as a symbol of everlasting love and fidelity? Somehow I don’t think that has worked out well for some of them.
How was I to know that the piece had to come from Queen Victoria’s garden on the Isle of Wight? Or that a bridesmaid is supposed to plant the sprig in the bride’s garden because — and here it gets confusing — if the sprig fails to grow then someone ends up being an old maid. I’m guessing it isn’t the bride, unless there’s some sort of immediate annulment.
No, I can say that my conscious thoughts — for what else would my thoughts be — were solely because I like to try plants I’ve never grown before.
And there was Myrtle the myrtle plant, looking pretty and perky.
I might not have decided to write about Myrtle the myrtle if I hadn’t noticed the neatest thing while watering last week during the horrifically humid heat.
Myrtle looked to be covered in strings of pearls as creamy white buds lined the branches.
I was ecstatic, for I hadn’t had time to check to see if Myrtle was even supposed to bloom.
Imagine my further stupefaction as I did research this week to find out that common myrtle was making headlines because of the royal wedding.
Not that I would plant just any old common myrtle, mind you.
I seem to have Myrtus communis ‘Compacta variegata,’ otherwise known as dwarf variegated myrtle.
She’s beautiful, with sage-green leaves edged with ivory. And now with dozens of buds developing, that means some sort of seed-holding vessel will follow. In Myrtle’s case, it looks like it will be a berry, possibly dark purple if it produces something similar to common myrtle.
Like many plants, myrtle has a storied history. It is mentioned several times in the Bible and figures into many Greek tales. According to “100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names” by Diana Wells, there were “myrtle nymphs” who taught the Greeks how to use the plant to tan leather and as a black dye for hair.
Then there’s all that folklore across continents and centuries that has myrtle the symbol of true love, fidelity and so forth.
In the culinary realm, myrtle is an herb and traditionally has been used to flavor lamb and pork, with the leaves treated like bay leaves and removed from the dish before serving. The berries and leaves are used to make a liqueur called Mirto in Sardinia and served to aid in digestion.
Its aroma, which is compared to a mild eucalyptus scent, is said to be excellent at clearing the airways, and compounds with myrtle are used in treating sinus infections.
If I get really clever, I can prune Myrtle into some sort of topiary since the plant is often used for just such a thing.
My dwarf plant will grow only 2 feet tall at the most. But in its native climate of the Mediterranean and North Africa, the common myrtle can grow upward of 15 feet tall.
That’s slightly too large for the office.
If I must be completely honest, there’s one other reason I bought a myrtle: I like to say the name.
Come on, I know you want to say it with me.
First published in the Bangor Daily News in July 2011.