Ya’ll know I’m a fan of nature and plants, so I’m always looking at plants wherever I go. Traveling in Eastern Europe was no exception. While we spent the first several days in the city, once we got out into the countryside, my farm girl and botanist’s eyes started searching for crops, trees, and flowers that I might recognize. There were many new species, of course, but I was pleasantly surprised by how many plant friends I recognized (at least by family group) some 5000 miles away from home.
My first plant surprise actually came in the city of Prague, as we strolled the streets and alleyways near Wenceslas Square and happened upon a Franciscan garden (Františkánská zahrada) filled with apple trees.
Later, in Štramberk, – a small Czech town near the Beskydy mountains that was established in 1359, but has remnants of Neanderthal, stone age and bronze age settlements in its nearby hills – I was delighted to find two of my favorite plant friends – stinging nettle and elderberry – growing at the ruins of the old Štramberk Castle tower (Trúba). These plants, both with powerful healing and nutritive properties, grow in abundance there.
Of course, the view of the town from the castle ruins was pretty sweet, too!
And no visit to Štramberk is complete without sampling the town’s signature food product Štramberk Ears (Štramberské uši), a gingerbread cookie treat that is so unique to the area you have to have a special permit to make them. The gruesome story of their history can be found here.
Ah, but I digress… back to the plants… There were many crops growing all through the countryside of Eastern Europe, including corn, wheat, hay, and sunflowers…
At Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia, cyclamens (an ornamental plant in the US) were growing in their native European habitat among the lakes and waterfalls of this delightful park.
And the trails around Lake Bled in Slovenia were full of wildflowers familiar to my eyes… lady’s thumbprint, hearts-a-bustin’, and a pink lily similar to the rain lily or Atamasco lily of the US that carpeted the shady understory of trails below the castle at Lake Bled.
Water lilies were abundant in Lake Bled, Slovenia….
There were also flowers in window boxes and gardens everywhere, just like those we plant here in the US – geraniums, impatiens, and others. And the ever-present yard weeds of dandelion, plantain, yarrow, and goldenrod grew wherever they could get a foothold! So, even a world away, familiar plants provided a measure of comfort for this traveling naturalist in a foreign land.
Of course, many of the plants that live in the US today came from Europe and Asia with the immigrants who ventured to these new lands. I can’t help but think about the similarity between plants and people here – even though we all live in different parts of the world, we are all the same in many ways. Like the plants, we share common characteristics, desires, needs, and in many cases, origins. We may be different, but we are also the same. It might do us good to keep that in mind and treat each other with respect and care as we journey through our lives.
Different countries, same plants. We are connected. We are one.